Everyday Goddesses: Antonia DeMichiel

Today’s Everyday Goddess is someone I feel truly lucky to have in my life. Antonia and I met when I was a sophomore in high school, at the very beginning of my journey into yoga and recovery, when she was volunteering for Challenge Day (one of my most beloved organizations). Antonia has continued to inspire me over the years with her fearless pursuit of service to others, wanderlust, self-advocacy, and genuine kindness. It’s an honor to share her light with you today.

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“I don’t believe I’ve overcome my disability. There is nothing about my life path that needs to be ‘overcome’ because my CP has made me who I am today.”

Who are you?

My name is Antonia and I’m 26 years-old. I currently live in Berkeley and feel incredibly fortunate to call the Bay Area my home. I was born at 28 weeks, two months premature and have a neurological disability called cerebral palsy (CP). My type of CP is pretty mild so it mainly causes significant spasticity in my legs, however I walk with crutches and occasionally use a manual wheelchair to navigate the world. I am passionate about disability rights and inclusion, traveling, speaking Spanish, participating in adaptive fitness such as Adaptive CrossFit and yoga as well as meditation.

Growing up, I went to private school through high school and was always the “token” kid with a visible disability. This caused me to struggle socially to feel included. A fundamental part of my development came through getting involved with adaptive sports and meeting other kids like me that way. As a kid I learned to swim, horseback ride and ride a handcycle bike all while making friends with other girls who I related to.

My parents were huge advocates of my own inclusion in programs where people with disabilities hadn’t gone before. Their attitude about anything I want to do is  “if there is a will, there is a way.” In high school I became intensely involved with a couple non-profits focused on service-learning and grassroots community development abroad, mainly two organizations, Amigos de las Americas and buildOn. However, neither organization had had participants with disabilities so I spent a lot of time early on learning to break the status quo. I first traveled abroad to Uruguay with Amigos in 2007 and the following summer I was in Mali with buildOn building a school in a rural village. My early travels abroad have shaped my entire life path from studying International Relations in college to most recently spending two years living and working in Santiago, Chile as a volunteer with Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

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“I walked with a walker until I was four years-old and doctors tried to tell my parents I would never walk with crutches. To all of them, I want to say, ‘look at me now!'”

What is the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?

A lot of people like to look at everything I’ve done “despite my disability.” This a narrative I try to challenge everyday. I don’t believe I’ve overcome my disability. There is nothing about my life path that needs to be “overcome” because my CP has made me who I am today. However, every day I work to overcome the negative stereotypes and low expectations society imposes on people with disabilities. I walked with a walker until I was four years-old and doctors tried to tell my parents I would never walk with crutches. To all of them, I want to say, “look at me now!”

I would say one thing I’m currently working on is fighting the stigma surrounding anxiety and using medication to better my mental health. I have struggled with anxiety and been doing different types of therapy since I was a teenager.  Only three months ago did I decide to start taking medication in conjunction with therapy. I feel like I’ve gotten my life back. I’m out of survival mode and finally feel like I’m thriving again. I finally feel like I can rest well at night, not be consumed by racing, obsessive thoughts and invest more energy in doing the things that make me feel alive.

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“I can say without a doubt that getting involved with Crossfit is revolutionizing my self-confidence and helping me break past the barriers in my own mind.”

How has pursuing physical strength affected your self-image, life, and tenacity?

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved with adaptive sports since I was young but it had been a few years since I’d do anything athletic and I was pretty out of shape. However, in June I came across the instagram account of a well-established Adaptive Crossfit athlete and coach named Steph Hammer (@stephthehammer) and something lit up inside of me. I saw this woman with CP who also walks with crutches doing movements I aspire to do.I thought to myself, “I want to do that too.” So a simple Google search led me to The Good Leg Project and the crew at San Francisco CrossFit, heading up their Adaptive Athletics program.

It’s only been three months but I can say without a doubt that getting involved with Crossfit is revolutionizing my self-confidence and helping me break past the barriers in my own mind. Every week I learn new movements, some that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing, such as going from a sit to stand position without using my crutches to get up. That might sound simple, but because I fight my muscle tightness, it actually takes a ton of energy and focus.  Many times, the coach presents a new movement and the first thought in my mind is, “How am I going to do THAT?”

I love Crossfit because it’s pushing me on both a mental and physical level. It’s by far THE most physically intense activity I’ve ever been involved with but I see the benefits coming through in my improved balance, overall strength and stamina. In the gym, I feel comfortable in my wheelchair because I’m around other people that see it as a tool and don’t judge me. In the gym I feel welcome. I feel like I belong to something. In the gym I feel alive and capable.

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“I’m out of survival mode and finally feel like I’m thriving again.”

How would you describe the fearlessly authentic you?

The fearlessly authentic me speaks up and uses my voice to advocate for issues I care about. When I am feeling fearlessly authentic you will know exactly what is on my mind without toning down my thoughts or beliefs out of a superficial desire to fit in. The fearlessly authentic me is resilient, strong, passionate and focused. The fearlessly authentic me is both loud and powerful and calm and introspective depending on the moment.

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