In this Wheel:Life interview, Sam Lopez of the Rollettes discusses overcoming spinal cord injury to find her life’s purpose, what the Rolling Sisterhood means to her, and what lies ahead.
Sam Searched for a Loophole After SCI
Samantha Lopez, who goes by the nickname of Sam, was nearly finished with high school when she experienced a lower thoracic spinal cord injury. She shares, “I lived in a 3-story apartment building and shared a bedroom with my sister. The bedroom window was open that night and I went to close it. As I stood on the bed, I slipped and fell through the screen. My sister caught my ankle, but could only hold on for a couple of minutes, and she lost her grip. The paramedics said I fell about 30 feet.”
Sam woke up a few days later disoriented in the hospital. While she remembers the doctors explaining she was paralyzed at T-12, the news didn’t quite sink in. For a long time, Sam admits her injury wasn’t something she was willing to accept. She was desperate to find a loophole.
She recalls, “The whole time I was in the hospital, I was sure I was going to go home walking.”
“But I was gently told that wasn’t going to happen. I remember trying with all my might to leave rehab walking again. I would ask the therapists and nurses if they ever had a situation, like mine, where someone could walk when they left. It was tough mentally, and I was incredibly lucky to have the support of my family and friends.”
“Honestly, I hated rehab,” Sam continues. “I had to learn how to cath, transfer, put my jeans on again – a lot of relearning. One of the things I struggled the most with was cathing. I just couldn’t get it. But, then they told me that I couldn’t leave rehab until I could do it and I remember crying all day. Finally, it was clear I didn’t have a choice, and I learned to cath so I could leave.”
“I was pretty lost the first year and a half I was home. At first, it was about accepting different stages — like leaving rehab without walking. I kind of just had to cry that out for a while,” she explains. “Eventually, I put walking out of my mind and realized I had to move on with my life.”
Sam Consciously Chose to Leave Her Comfort Zone
After rehab, Sam finished high school, but she wasn’t sure what could possibly be next for her. She wasn’t motivated to be social or participate in the activities that she used to enjoy. Luckily, she had a friend that would visit, do her nails and keep her company.
Sam remembers, “One day, my friend told me about Push Girls, a TV show about these women who had been using chairs for a while and who were successful. My friend didn’t have the channel at her house and asked me to record it for her.”
I went about a month without watching it because I wasn’t ready to relate to that yet. I didn’t want to connect to anyone else in a wheelchair.
Finally, I watched an episode with Chelsie Hill and I discovered she was going through so many of the same things I was.”
With that episode, Sam was hooked. She started following Chelsie and her dance team on social media and found so much in common with the TV stars. A whole new world began to open up, along with all the possibilities of what life in a chair could hold. But, Sam was still hesitant to join her new world.
Sam says, “My mom reminded me that I had always been interested in dance and she encouraged me to reach out to them. It was true, I had been curious, but had never had the confidence to pursue it, even before my injury. At one of my lowest points, I sent a message to Chelsie, although I was sure she would never have time to write me back. I explained to her that I was pretty much independent, but I was still depressed and felt stuck.”
To Sam’s surprise, she received a response plus an invitation!
Chelsie invited Sam and her family to attend an upcoming dance performance. Sam explains, “I went. And it was weird that I actually did that because it was totally out of my comfort zone. I was craving friends and a normal life. I met Chelsie and some other girls and had such a great experience, I came back the next day too.”
Sam Lopez Hopes to Pay it Forward for Women Who Roll
The rest is history. Sam and Chelsie became fast friends and Chelsie encouraged her to attend an upcoming dance workshop, which today has evolved into the Rollettes Experience.
With little experience but determined to learn and bond with her new sisters on wheels, Sam joined the Rollettes Dance Team in 2014. Before she knew it, she was in love with the art of dance.
Four years later, it’s hard for Sam to imagine life without her Rolling Sisterhood and the experiences they’ve shared together as the Rollettes. She shares, “It’s been more than I could have ever imagined. This is the last place I pictured myself when I was in rehab — traveling the world and meeting so many other amazing people in wheelchairs, hearing their stories and resonating with them.”
“Before now, it was hard to see myself as a role model, but that’s exactly who we are to other girls that follow our stories online. It makes me happy to know that the little things we’re doing are making a big impact.
We’re helping people build their self-confidence. The fact that I found my own means you can too.
She adds, “I know the feeling of being in rehab and feeling lost. We have to believe that life goes on and we can still pursue the things we always wanted to do, or discover new passions and talents. I found a second family that is totally amazing and unexpected. We wouldn’t share this bond if we weren’t all going through spinal cord injury together.”
Focusing on Personal Growth: Sam Sets Goals
Sam has big plans in store for 2019! First on her list is more dance classes, as she loves the feeling of learning something new and “nailing a combo” after a lesson. She also has a goal of studying video production to improve her skill in capturing experiences on film for her team.
Her love of cooking has also found a new life after SCI. Sam reveals, “I love to cook for friends and family, and it was a passion that I jumped back into last year.”
I was intimidated to get back into it at first because I was scared of getting burned.
“But I feel comfortable again in the kitchen. I just needed to relearn how to do some things and develop some new techniques to access everything safely. I’d like to take some more classes to further improve my ability.”
Why Sam Lopez Uses the Cure Twist Pre-Lubricated Catheter
As Sam explained earlier in this interview, she had a lot of trouble with self-cathing when she was still in rehab. Thankfully, those issues are now behind her after she discovered a catheter that works best for her!
The Cure Twist® is Sam’s go-to product, and she offers several reasons why it’s her preferred catheter.
Sam explains, “First and foremost, it’s a huge selling point for me that Cure catheters are not made with known carcinogens like DEHP or DINP. I couldn’t believe that I’d previously used catheters made with chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Several of my family members are currently battling cancer and that really hit home for me.”
Additionally, Sam appreciates the convenience and discreet appearance of the Cure Twist.
She shares, “When you open the Twist, there’s no mess, nothing drips out and you can just close it up and toss it in the trash. The fact that I can slip it in my makeup bag or pop it in my little wallet when I’m on the go is awesome. They’re easy to use, and very discrete. I love it!”
All of the Rollettes agree with Sam that the Cure Commitment is a big deal too — the financial promise Cure Medical makes to donate 10% of net income back to medical research in pursuit of a cure for paralysis.
“The Cure Commitment is amazing,” Sam continues. “I wish more medical companies supported our community with initiatives like Cure does. They’re thoughtful and giving, and I’m very proud to be educating people about Cure Medical catheters because they are socially responsible.”
Meet Sam in person at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo on Feb. 22-24 where she will performing with the Rollettes and appearing in the Cure Medical booth. Get your free pass here!