This wheelchair ballroom dancer is breaking barriers

(NEW YORK) — Cheryl Angelelli is paralyzed from the chest down, but she is a star on the dance floor.

Not only is Angelelli breaking barriers for women with disabilities, she’s breaking world records. An athlete at heart, Angelelli was ranked seventh in the world for wheelchair ballroom dancing in 2017. She also holds two Silver medals and two Bronze medals with the Paralympic swim team.

“I was determined from a young age to never let my wheelchair define me or confine me,” Angelelli told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Being a change maker wasn’t always the norm for Angelelli. Her life was turned upside down after a swimming pool accident when she was 14.

“I started competitive swimming when I was 8 years old,” Angelelli told GMA. “I dreamed of reaching the pinnacle of my sport, which for me would have been the Olympics.”

Angelelli was at swim practice when she hit her head at the shallow end of the pool. The accident left her paralyzed from the chest down.

“The doctors gave me a very bleak prognosis,” Angelelli said. “They told me that I would never walk again and that I’d never be independent.”

But that didn’t stop Angelelli from chasing her dreams.

Angelelli discovered the Paralympic Games in 1996.

“It changed my life,” Angelelli said. “It was the first time that I’d seen and witnessed this elite level game for athletes with disabilities.”

Right then and there Angelelli knew that it was her chance to fulfill her childhood dreams of competing in the Olympics, except this time in the Paralympics.

After 16 years, Angelelli decided to trade in her swimsuit for a ballgown.

“Wheelchair ballroom dancing was something that I always wanted to try,” said Angelelli. “So when I retired (from swimming) it was the perfect opportunity for me to try a new sport.”

Angelelli waltzed her way into becoming one of the best wheelchair ballroom dancers in the world. Angelelli and her partner have even become famous for a “Dirty Dancing routine they do, with a wheelchair lift and all.”

“It’s just a great crowd moment because the crowd doesn’t expect it. They don’t expect that move from someone who is in a wheelchair,” said Angelelli.

Angelelli lives her life without thinking she has any limitations. As marketing director for the rehabilitation institute of Michigan, she encourages others to think the same way.

“Yes this disability changed your life,” she said, “but it’s not the end of your life.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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