Mind, Body, Wheels: Chelsie Hill's Journey from Paralysis to Professional Dancer

a woman smiling
Curated by
Kieran Kern
Content via In The News
In The News
Curated by
Kieran Kern

Chelsie Hill has been dancing since she learned to walk and started competitive dancing at five-years-old. She followed her passion throughout school and became Central California State Champion in her senior year. “I was at my peak…everything was going perfectly,” says Chelsie.

After a basketball game in February 2010, she played a few rounds of beer pong at a friend’s house, and made a decision that would change her life permanently. Chelsie accepted a ride home from a friend, not realizing he was drunk. “I just figured there was no way he would put all of our lives in danger,” she explains. From her spot buckled into the middle of the back seat, she saw a flashing yellow light cautioning them to slow down. “…but we hit a curb—going straight into a ditch, hitting a tree head-on.”

chelsie hill

Chelsie awoke in the hospital to find out that while her other friends riding in the car only withstood minor injuries, her position in the car meant that her body nearly split in half on impact and was held together by her skin.

Two weeks after the accident the doctor told her she wouldn’t be able to walk again.

“I don’t just want to walk, I'm a dancer."

The doctor apologized and told her that was not a possibility. “I didn’t really believe him. How could this stranger come in and just tell me the craziest thing I’d ever heard?” Then 17-year-old Chelsie was having difficulty coming to grips with being a T-10 paraplegic. This came to a head a few weeks later when she woke up screaming in the pediatric ICU. A malfunctioning pain machine had her lamenting her situation to her dad. “He told me that maybe it was my destiny to help others in my shoes,” she explains. He assured her that she could do anything she wanted to. “It made me realize that I needed to take what had happened to me and use it to make a difference.” In her lowest moment, Chelsie found her purpose.

When she returned home from the hospital, Chelsie’s life was both very different yet also remained the same. Her mom expanded her role as caregiver helping to bathe and dress Chelsie and turn her while she slept. Her friends from dance team helped her catch up on homework and eased her overwhelm at her new life as a paraplegic. One of the most pivotal outcomes from this time with her friends was the idea of wheelchair dance routine that she could perform in at the end of year rally at her school.

“I wasn't sure if anything would come of it, but fast-forward a few months, and I was dancing in front of an audience for the first time since my accident. It was a huge breakthrough for me.”

dancers pose onstage

She realized that her dream of a professional dance career wasn’t over, it was just adjusted. She started the E.P.I.C. Project (Empowering People In Chairs) to help wheelchair users embrace their new life and fulfill their dreams. The door to her lifelong dream of being a dancer opened for Chelsie when she joined and now leads The Rollettes a dance company that features performers who all have SCI. She recently took on the role as ambassador for Wings for Life World Run a global event that raise awareness and funds for spinal cord injury research through their simultaneous running and wheelchair race. This opened the door for her to create the video Homecoming, with choreographers Josh Killacky and David Moore.

 “Dance is dance—whether you're walking or rolling. It doesn't see disability. ... I'm so lucky that I've been able to create a world for myself where my passion for dance and mission to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries are so intertwined.”

Share this with someone like Chelsie who is turning their life’s passions into plans.

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