After becoming paralyzed from the waist down as a teenager, Mia Schaikewitz dedicated herself to overcoming obstacles and inspiring others to do the same. Her accomplishments include a career as an award-winning designer, starring in Sundance Channel’s critically acclaimed docu-series, Push Girls and being a founding member of Infinite Flow – an inclusive professional dance company. She also shares her messages of hope and empowerment as an advocate and public speaker.
Grit Daily tapped into those raw, transformational moments and learned how Mia’s journey became her platform to empower others on a global scale in this Q&A.
Grit Daily: Most people experience a life-changing event that changes their path. How has your AVM (Arteriovenous malformation) become a blessing — or silver lining — in your life?
Mia Schaikewitz: I was 15 years old when I became paralyzed from an AVM that suddenly ruptured in my spinal cord. At that time, I feared my life was over because I didn’t think I had the capacity to live a happy life without being able to walk. However, I quickly realized my fear of paralysis wasn’t about not being able to walk, it was a fear of not being able to feel accepted, or being able to continue with the physical activities I loved.
Once I learned to accept myself and re-relearned how to do activities I still enjoyed, I came to acknowledge that I wasn’t truly losing anything by being paralyzed. Coming to terms with that realization, turned out to be the catalyst that allowed me to truly find myself and provide the internal strength I would need to move on with gratitude for the experience.
Finding the silver lining from the paralysis reminds me to find the silver linings in many other challenges, big or small, that come my way!
GD: Many people become depressed after losing their freedom. What is your secret to living a life filled with ability, passion, and joy?
MS: Although I thought being paralyzed was limiting my freedom at first, I found real freedom when I learned to let go of things beyond my control. I may not have been able to change what happened to me, but I can change the way I feel about it. True freedom goes beyond a physical situation so no matter how “imperfect” I feel or the situation seems, a conscious perspective allows me to feel free, able, passionate, and joyful when I choose to put my mind in those states.
Curiosity is a great motivator for me. I am always wondering how things will turn out even when I think I can predict an outcome. I like to be surprised and life is full of those “wow, that’s not where I thought this was going” moments.
I observe obstacles to be amazing opportunities for growth. Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective to find silver-linings, but they are always there!
GD: What is a motto or quote that you live by?
MS: Fear will disable you; courage will enable you!
GD: You influence so many others by being a member of Infinite Flow – An Inclusive Dance Company. Do your dance partners share the same mindset as you?
MS: Absolutely! I believe part of self-care is surrounding yourself with people who have positive mindsets, who will help you grow, and will remind you of your strengths. That’s one reason being a member of Infinite Flow is a blast! Everyone comes into it with an open mind and heart so we are able to collectively express those mindsets through dance.
We treat dance as a language that everyone can learn, so when we can communicate to audiences the beauty of inclusion by what we do, we help others understand the importance of a more inclusive world.
We are ALL different, so let’s celebrate the fact that it’s difference that actually makes us similar!
GD: Your passion for inspiring others, and traveling around the nation doing conventions and speaking, is remarkable. Do you feel that you would have been on a different life path if you had not become paralyzed?
MS: Yes and no. I love being an advocate and I can’t imagine doing anything else because it feels like purpose for me. Part of me feels I’d be doing everything exactly the same despite becoming paralyzed.
However, getting paralyzed certainly gave me the personal experiences at a younger age to discover passion about breaking stereotypes and promoting inclusion.
The whole experience of dealing with a spinal cord injury makes my world bigger and I am so grateful for that! If I hadn’t become paralyzed, I might have eventually found a path doing something with a human rights movement because I was always interested in those topics as a young child.
GD: After having broken your hip, your mobility was significantly reduced. How did you stay in shape and manage physical fitness during your recovery?
MS: Breaking my hip definitely challenged me in trying to keep up with my normally active routine. I missed getting into the pool and dancing. While I was bed-ridden in the hospital, I tried to keep up upper body strength by doing pull ups on a bar above my bed, but it wasn’t really ideal or convenient.
I definitely would have enjoyed more options to stay in shape. Recently, I discovered a fantastic home gym system, UWAR (Ultimate Workout And Recovery), that would’ve been perfect in that situation since you can essentially do a full workout from lying in a bed or sitting in a chair! Even cardio because it has a hand-peddler device.
Most workout equipment is not designed with someone seated or lying down in mind so the system is especially useful for those with different mobility needs.
Luckily, I already use a wheelchair and didn’t need to walk on that hip when getting back to my daily routine so my recovery became expedited in that sense. That’s a silver lining!