WHEELCHAIR-BOUND ATLANTA-NATIVE TO STAR IN REALITY SHOW
Reality television has become a fixture in pop culture, supplying viewers with an inside look at the lives of celebrities and average people alike. Though it may seem like the reality T.V. market has been flooded, the Sundance Channel’s new series “Push Girls” has been added to the mix to chronicle the lives of four women who have become wheelchair-bound in some way.
Mia Schaikewitz, one of the women in the show, was born and raised in Atlanta before moving out to Los Angeles, where the show is filmed. At age 15, Schaikewitz became paralyzed from the waist down due to a rare condition called Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM); she was devastated, especially because it meant the end of her high school swimming career.
During this pivotal time in her life, Schaikewitz faced the challenges of being a teenager and adapting to a new body. Like any teenager, she struggled with her identity, but her ability to be independent despite being confined to a wheelchair was even more of a challenge.
“[Being independent] was a really big part of me getting back my identity and strength because it was taken away from me at the beginning,” she said. “Once I realized it was possible, I really strived to keep it.”
Over time, Schaikewitz began to accept her situation and “realize that it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it opened up my world,” she said in an interview. Becoming a paraplegic allowed Schaikewitz to see what she wanted to accomplish in life despite the challenges she faced.
Most importantly, Schaikewitz had the support of her family.
“My parents dealt with the situation completely differently,” she said. “My dad wished that I would be happy again and my mom wished that I would walk again.”
Schaikewitz explains that her dad was an inspiration to her as she adjusted to her new life.
“I realized that I can’t control the situation of walking again, but I can control whether I’m going to be happy or not,” she said.
After becoming paralyzed, Schaikewitz also turned to Judaism for support and “soul searching.” Within the Jewish faith, Schaikewitz found even more strength to overcome her disability by discovering common values and beliefs in reading the Torah. This pathway into Judaism allowed Schaikewitz to embrace her own spirituality and realize that “[being paralyzed] was meant to be.”
After attending college at the University of Florida, Schaikewitz moved to Los Angeles and now works as a project manager at a graphic design firm. There, she was chosen to be featured in “Push Girls” alongside Auti Rivera, Angela Rockwood-Nguyen and Tiphany Adams.
Though hesitant to agree at first, Schaikewitz soon realized how groundbreaking this reality series could be and the effect it could have on viewers. She describes the beginning of filming as intimidating and surprised her friends by agreeing to reveal her private life on national television.
However, the entire process has become completely positive and Schaikewitz looks forward to sharing her life with the viewers.
While other reality shows feature women fighting among themselves or competing for stardom, “Push Girls” is completely different. Schaikewitz describes the relationship among the four women as entirely positive, encouraging each other to succeed. Even before the show, the women had already built strong friendships and bonded with each other.
“We’re really best friends,” she said.Though she describes herself as shy, Schaikewitz is incredibly forthcoming, and it is easy to imagine these women as a close-knit foursome.
Not only a source of entertainment, “Push Girls” is proving to also be educational.
“[The show] does answer questions that people are afraid to ask and gets rid of the ignorance and fear,” Schaikewitz said.
By educating viewers and starting a public conversation on paralysis, Schaikewitz hopes to tear down the barrier that exists in society. The series is a way to invite an audience into the private lives of these paralyzed women, allowing them to prove that they are the same as any able-bodied individual.
One of the main reasons Schaikewitz became part of the show was to provide something she never had when she was paralyzed – a role model. After becoming paralyzed, Schaikewitz struggled to regain a sense of identity and did not have someone “to look up to and learn from.”
With the show, she hopes to be a role model to people in similar situations and help them achieve their goals, and also to break the stigma associated with people in wheelchairs.
“I think one of the main things people think is that we are all secretly miserable and that being in a wheelchair is the hardest thing in our life,” Schaikewitz said.
However, having a disability does not define a person, and they struggle with the same things any average person does.
She says that despite physical condition, “We are all human and we can all be relatable to each other.” Her belief in acceptance and equality despite physical condition echoes the themes of the Torah she relied on for her own recovery.
Other than the television series, Schaikewitz is involved with other organizations that improve the lives of handicapped individuals. She is a proud supporter of Colours Wheelchairs, which according to its website “designs and manufactures very specialized rigid everyday and rigid sport wheelchairs for an international market of disabled customers.”
Schaikewitz loves the company’s creative concepts that allow people to express themselves through their wheelchairs.
“They let you have a choice and a huge part of self esteem is being in a chair that’s comfortable for you,” she said.
Schaikewitz also enjoys performing with the company’s Colours in Motion dance team.
“We go out and perform and dance for people who had no idea we could do that,” she says.
Her most recent endeavor has been returning to the swimming pool. After being paralyzed, Schaikewitz felt left out when her friends got to swim and she didn’t; now, being able to swim again represents her increasing independence and regaining what AVM took from her.
Schaikewitz serves as an inspiration for anyone struggling to overcome an obstacle.
“People say ‘live in the moment,’ which is a great philosophy for life, but I think when you’re in a really, really deep place, like depression or a moment when you can’t handle something, you do need to look beyond that moment,” she said.
From her own experience, Schaikewitz describes struggling as part of the journey to becoming who you are meant to be and reassures that it is possible to overcome anything.
By Jessie Miller