Editor’s Note: Ali McManus spent the beginning of her life running around and playing just like any other kid in her Detroit, Michigan suburb. But at the age of seven, her life took a major turn when she began experiencing pain throughout her body and frequently breaking bones. During those frustrating times of childhood and adolescence, she turned to music; writing songs and singing became her coping mechanism while recovering from multiple surgeries and struggling with not knowing the cause of her declining health. Nearly 15 years after her first incident, a genome test finally revealed a diagnosis — an extremely rare form of osteogenesis imperfecta that had previously been undiscovered. Now 22, McManus is sharing her story with the world through her debut album, Unbreakable. Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey caught up with McManus before her performance at Abilities Expo Los Angeles.
When I was 13, my scoliosis became so severe that it was life-threatening. My spine was at a 145º angle, and my lung capacity was below 19%. I don’t know how I was still singing at that point, but I was. My doctors said that within a few months, I wouldn’t be able to breathe anymore if they didn’t operate on my back. So, I moved into Shriners Hospital in St. Louis for surgery and recovery. After surgery, nine months in the halo traction, and a spinal fusion procedure, I grew seven inches, and my lung capacity increased to 30%.
Music Saved My Life
I started writing my own songs when I was 11. Then, when I was at the hospital for nine months at the age of 13, I would perform in front of the Moolah Shriners and their families. The music on my album Unbreakable was written during those times.
Playing and writing music has been very healing for me.
It was difficult for me to say how I felt out loud so I would put it in my songs.
That was a big factor in getting through all of those times when I was stuck in the hospital away from my friends and family. It really was a form of therapy.
Music as Inspiration
I write my songs about what I’ve been through, and hopefully, it inspires other people. I try to create my music in a way that can relate to anyone. I hope people can take from it that things in life may seem bad at times, but it’s going to get better soon. I also hope the album will show people that even if you’re in a chair, or whatever other challenges you may be going through, you can still follow your dreams.
If someone sees that I’m doing it, they’ll understand that they can do it, too.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
I’ve had four near-death experiences, so after those, I see life differently. It was always annoying to hear my friends whine and cry about the littlest things when there’s so much worse they could be crying about. So, I try not to sweat the small stuff. I recently wrote a song called Temporary.
There are things in life that come and go — people, places, and things.
If you think about it, it’s all temporary, and if you think of it like that, it will be easier for you to pick your battles.
Roll This Way
I have a video out called “Roll This Way,” and it’s my own version of “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith. We share the same producer: Jack Douglas. He has also produced John Lennon, Cheap Trick, and now me, which is insane. For copyright reasons, we had to get permission to do the video, and when Steven Tyler got wind, he really liked the idea. So, when he came to Detroit on tour, I got to meet him backstage and show him my rendition. As we were saying goodbye and taking pictures, my mom asked him if he wanted to be in the video. He said, “Hell yeah!” He’s one of the nicest musicians I’ve met. Filming the video in Los Angeles was so much fun.
Right now, I’m writing more music that will hopefully go on a new album. I’m also doing shows and working on getting my fanbase up. I’m also doing keynote concerts where I combine my music with motivational speaking.
Editor’s Note: Help Ali grow her fanbase by following her on social media: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud. Her debut album, Unbreakable, is available to stream on iTunes and Spotify.
Shout Out to Wheel:Life Readers
Everyone is unbreakable in their own way. You can follow your dreams no matter what situation you’re in.
Just be yourself, and remember that you are awesome.
Try not to think too much about what people think of you. That’s how I’ve really lived my life. You have to be willing to fail because you’ll miss out on opportunities if you’re not.
Editor’s Note: All information in this article was extracted from an interview with Ali McManus. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!