Sundance Channel’s new reality series Push Girls features four hot babes. Tiphany Adams is a fitness model and clothing designer. Auti Angel is a dancer, musician and actor. Angela Rockwood is a model and actor. Mia Schaikewitz is a dancer and swimmer. Oh, by the way, all four women are in wheelchairs.
Push Girls follows the quartet in their daily lives, full of more activity than many able-bodied reality stars might manage. Viewers will see that they can not only live independently, but that they can thrive. The girls spoke with Dish recently, even showing off by doing wheelies in their chairs, telling us about their lives, and discussing their new show.
“I think one of the main surprises is that you're going to figure out that you're not looking at us physically so much anymore,” Schaikewitz said. “You're seeing what we've accomplished, and where it's taken us, and why we live our lives, and why we're still positive people. It doesn't have to deal with what happened to us, or just the wheelchairs.”
The very first episode of Push Girls answers some questions everybody is probably wondering about. Adams says yes, she can have sex (and later Angel reveals she can get pregnant and carry a child.) Adams is also a big flirt, and she flirts with able bodied men standing over her. At a Sundance Channel lunch, she laid out the ground rules for flirting with a Push Girl.
“I definitely have a kind of sarcastic humor and I’m flirty, fun flirty,” Adams said. “Sometimes it’s a challenge for me and I think that’s what I enjoy about it, the challenge in flirting. Is he going to flirt back, is he not?”
A smart guy will see the obvious “in” and start asking about the wheelchair. “I think guys almost have it easier now to pick us up,” Schaikewitz said. “They’re able to use the chair as a pickup line. It’s such an easy thing to talk to you about. They can just be like, ‘Oh wow, that’s cool.’”
The only things off limits in flirting with Push Girls are the same boundaries any woman has- personal space. “Don’t just grab my chair and start pushing me,” Adams said. “Don’t be too aggressive. I think a little mystery is intriguing. I guess groping and touching [are off limits.]”
The introduction of Schaikewitz on Push Girls shows her loading herself into the shower. Schaikewitz knows everyone wonders how she showers. She can tell by the looks she gets when she says, “I’m going to go home and take a shower.” So now the world will know how she showers.
“I always said, I could be in a position to open up people’s minds about this stuff, and I always thought the mass media would be the best way, because it reaches more people,” Schaikewitz said. “I always said, if I ever got the opportunity to do that, I would compromise my own privacy. I would have never thought it would be in this context or this kind of show, but when it happened, it was so funny. This is perfect and I’ve got to live up to what I said, my internal deal with myself. My deal was I would do it for the greater good and I am. The shower scene, luckily it’s not an exploitive situation. It’s for a learning experience.”
Three of the Push Girls were paralyzed in automobile accidents. Schaikewitz was paralyzed by a blood clot. Though they cannot walk, they get around on their own, driving cars with attachments that let them push the pedals with their hands. That could be another revelation which the show illuminates, but such accommodations do not come cheap.
“That’s like $1000,” Adams said. “My car’s a 2007 and it was over $1000 bucks to get that installed.”
There are cheaper hand controls but they are less safe. Then there are monthly medical expenses. “Medical supplies are over $2000 a month.,” Adams continued, “Gloves and things like that, gloves are expensive and [insurance ] will only cover a certain amount and it’ll only give you a certain kind, the kind with powder in them. So after every time you use them, you have powder all over your clothes. Nitrile gloves are great. I love that Nitrile brand, but it’s just crazy those things you never thought.”
Rockwood is quadriplegic. She cannot even use her hands, and she requires 24 hour care. Currently her health care provider is denying her nursing care, and she is fighting for her insurance benefits. Rockwood hopes the show can illuminate her needs and get the public on the side of paralyzed individuals.
“Right now I’m fighting the insurance company,” Rockwood said. “I’m trying to prove to them that yes, I’m paralyzed from the neck down. Yes, I’m a quadriplegic. Yes, I need this care. I’m getting all my doctors to write letters, to write the insurance and tell them I need my care. I’ve had my care for the past 10 years and now they’re denying it to me. I had 24 hour care and it was diminished down to only 16, because each year they were just taking away the hours. They weren’t able to pay it.”
Rockwood hopes to have a baby one day. She will just need help to accommodate her special needs. “I am a quadriplegic, so when I have my baby, my baby’s going to be in the crib crying. I cannot hop in my chair and roll over to the crib to tend to my child,” Rockwood said. “I’m going to have to hire someone to get up, go grab my baby and bring my baby so I can take care of my child.”
The Push Girls also work with the wheelchair manufacturer Colours, which turn their chairs into accessories that accent their personalities. They also make lightweight chairs, which are overlooked by most medical companies.
“Insurance’s explanation is you don’t need a lightweight wheelchair, because lightweight wheelchairs are more expensive and they want to cut costs on that,” Schaikewitz said. “Okay, if I’m loading my chair in and out all day long, you’d think I’m probably creating problems for you guys later, when I need shoulder surgery. That’s insurance. They’re never going to cover preventative [care].”
The four women met through various connections in the professional world. Angel met Rockwood when she spoke at a rehabilitation center for spinal injuries. “Auti rolled in and I rolled my eyes at her, like, ‘Oh, great, here we go,’” Rockwood recalled. “That was ten years ago.”
Angel was impressed by Rockwood from the beginning. “But here's this hot chick,” Angel said. “She's actually the quadriplegic and she's paralyzed from the neck down. So she was in this chair like this, with this awesome Mohawk, and I was, like, ‘Wow, you're hot.’ She was, like, ‘I know. You're one of us, aren't you?’"
Schaikewitz joined the group when she and Angel crossed paths, competing for the same role. “We met at an audition in L.A. for a part, and she tried to recruit me for her dance team,” Schaikewitz said. “And then somehow we reunited a few years later and made it happen.”
Adams took one of Rockwood’s acting classes. Then, Rockwood introduced her to the rest of her Push Girls by taking them all out dancing. Angel was impressed. “I saw her out there shaking it, and I was like, ‘That's my kind of girl.’ Basically, we're four queens sitting on a throne.”
Rockwood continues speaking to the recently injured and to patients in ongoing rehabilitation facilities. The TV show will give her an even broader platform to speak her message of hope.
“Life is a gift,” Rockwood said. “What you do with your life is your gift back. Basically, since I've been on this journey, I have met so many women that have been through every catastrophic situation, whether you're paralyzed, you've lost a loved one, a divorce, AIDS, you lose a breast from breast cancer, everyone has their way of dealing with things. But the one thing that I learned was a lot of people lose themselves. The biggest thing for me was to go out there and remind others, as long as you don't forget who you are inside, you can just outdo and overcome any obstacle, whatever gets in your way, and live life to the fullest. I think the common denominator with us is, yeah, our wheelchairs, but it's not about the wheelchair. It's about our spirit, and how we just live life to the fullest.”
Now that they’re on television the Push Girls can reach an even younger audience than they do in their counseling sessions. Their story can empower young girls no matter what they’re going through.
“My thing for a young woman basically would be- believe completely,” Rockwood said. “Do not stop believing in what you want to do with your life and your dreams, regardless of what happens. The one thing, the one main thing is, don't focus on what you don't have, focus on what you do have. Just keep on believing in yourself, that you can do it, and anything is possible. This is just a vessel, and we're just doing what we do. We don't just sit here and look pretty.”
During the course of the first season, you will also be introduced to a fifth Push Girl. Chelsie Hill joined the Push Girls two years ago, after a drunk driving accident in her senior year of high school. Including Hill in their group made the veteran Push Girls feel like they’re making a difference.
“It’s a dream come true to meet her,” Schaikewitz said. “I had this total revelation when I was in the hospital thinking ‘Wow, if I can ever be a role model to another girl at some point, because I knew how much it would help me, I would feel ecstatic.’ It’s something I always wanted to do. Yeah, we’ve done that, meeting people, but to be able to interact and fall in love with her as a person, it’s really different. It’s so reciprocal on both ends. What it reminds us is how we were and where we are now, and how we got to that transition and also, seeing her achieve that is inspiring.”
For the actors in the group, Push Girls can also change Hollywood. “We want to help change the perception, because we're all entertainers and actors,” Angel said. “It's what we love to do. We go to auditions and sometimes they look at you and they're like, ‘You don't look disabled enough.’ And we're like, ‘What is that supposed to look like?’
In the first season, you’ll see Angel entering dance contests in her wheelchair. It’s more proof that there’s nothing these girls can’t do. “It's surprising, because I actually teach kids in wheelchairs hip-hop dance,” Angel said. “I go in thinking I'm going to inspire them. They actually inspire me. You'll be surprised how children actually adapt a lot quicker than we do, because they're not trained to think all the negative stuff and ‘Oh, this is bad,’ and all this and all that. In fact, I think it's the parents, when the kids are staring, they're like, ‘Stop staring.’ I'm like, ‘Let them stare.’ Let them ask all the questions they want.”
“My biggest fear at 15 was going back to my high school in a wheelchair, where nobody was in a wheelchair,” Schaikewitz. “My high school wasn't even accessible. I remember going back the first day and just putting it out there, putting my attitude out there, being, like, so what? Like, this is actually cool. I can do a wheelie, and just show people a positive side to it. It's really their reaction that just balances it.”
Now she helps other young girls find the wheelchair that makes them proud, through her work with Colours. “One of my favorite things is to go to the ‘abilities expos’ where we help sell these chairs,” Schaikewitz said. “At one expo recently, this girl comes in and she was this tiny, petite, great, beautiful girl and she was in this big clunky chair. I could just tell it was taking away from her self-esteem. She saw our chairs and was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I totally want one.’ We got her fitted for one and I was helping her pick out her colors and her face just completely lit up. She was so excited, and that thing, just being in a chair that’s comfortable, people are like ‘wow, it’s such a fancy chair, why not’? Make it work.”
Watch everything the Push Girls can do on their new show. They promise to inspire you. “I feel our purpose is definitely just to be the hope for those that are in despair, and the light unto those in darkness,” Adams said. “Always just be happy to be alive. That's a blessing in itself, no matter what your circumstance is. Sometimes even when you don’t necessarily feel like you’re smiling inside, you will still wear that smile on the outside.”
Push Girls airs weekly beginning Monday, June 4 at 10 P.M. ET/PT on the Sundance Channel