The Heart Is What Truly Matters

When I was 14 years old I had a diving accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. The teenage years can be difficult alone because it is a time of rapid physical and emotional change; having a spinal cord injury on top of that only lead to further insecurities.

At a time when all my friends were starting to have their first boyfriends and date, I used to wonder to myself if I would ever have a boyfriend or even get married someday. Would somebody be able to see past the very thing people noticed first.

Comments like “wow you are so pretty it’s a shame you are in a wheelchair” made my teenage self believe that I was not worthy of being loved or accepted by a partner, that I was perceived as damaged goods or undesirable because I had a disability.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my 14-year-old self, be patient, keep putting yourself out there, relationships are hard whether you have a disability or not. Don’t let others define your worth or value. But mostly, I would tell her, you will meet a wonderful man who will treat you and see you as an equal partner.

Unfortunately the misconceptions I was lead to believe as a teenager still exist today. When people find out I’m married it is sometimes followed by either two questions...”did you meet your husband after your accident or does your husband have a disability too?” Both of which are insulting because the essence of the question is they find it hard to believe an able-bodied person would willing choose a lifetime commitment with someone with a disability.

If my husband happens to be with me when people start questioning our relationship, he is often praised as a hero for willingly choosing a life with someone with a disability or he is hailed a saint for saving me from a life of rejection and despair. Both could not be further from the truth. My husband is a wonderful man, but not because he is married to someone with a disability.

We recently we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary, and while others may see a wheelchair, my husband has always seen what truly matters, my heart. So to my husband Shawn, thank you for 18 years of equal partnership and unconditional love. I am glad “we chose each other” to go through life with.

And to those living with a disability, love yourself and know that you are worthy and deserving of being loved.

About Cheryl Angelelli

Paralympic medal winner, World Record holder, and Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, are just a few of Cheryl Angelelli’s many accomplishments. She is also a professional ballroom dancer and works in healthcare marketing.