That ‘Chick in the Chair’ Just Might Be Superwoman

Article Highlights:
  • Author Angela Wrigglesworth details her adventures in helping a man with car trouble — all from the seat of her wheelchair.
by Angela Wrigglesworth on November 1, 2008 - 10:21am

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 6

It was 5 o’clock on a weekday afternoon. I was sitting on the corner of Montrose, a five-lane thoroughfare through downtown Houston, and Sul Ross, a little cross street between West Alabama and Richmond. The class I was taking at the University of St. Thomas had ended for the day, and I was waiting for my faithfully late METRO bus.

Angela Wrigglesworth, 31, has spinal muscular atrophy and teaches third grade in the Houston area. She is a member of MDA’s National Task Force on Public Awareness and serves as the executive director of the Ms. Wheelchair Texas Foundation.

As with most commuter cities, Houston’s rush hour embodies the absolute ugliness of the world, and true to form, this day was no exception. A man’s car had broken down on the opposite side of the street from me, and cars were making every attempt to get around while simultaneously letting him know exactly how they felt about his awful timing. Motorist after motorist swerved into the middle lane, gestured obscenely at the man, and cursed at him out their windows.

As a woman who has used a wheelchair for practically my entire life, I rarely encounter an opportunity to help someone physically. I can’t babysit my friends’ newborns because I’m unable to pick them up. In my 20s, I never was called upon to help out the many apartment dwellers I knew when they moved from place to place. And I’ve certainly never dropped off a loved one at the airport. So as I sat there staring at the man’s misfortune, I decided to take advantage of the rare opportunity to use the strengths I had.

“Hey,” I called out to him, “do you need some help?” He looked at me as though stating the obvious was the worst possible insult and said back with an annoyed smirk, “Yeah.”

“Well, would you like me to help you?” I offered and immediately felt his up-and-down gaze. Not the good kind, like I was being eyed with an interest from across a room, but the kind that probably incorporated the phrase, “Mm hmm ... yeah right ... the chick in the chair is going to help me.” Instead he managed to simply yell, “No.” Despite this look of disdain and refusal, I did not give up my heroic pursuit.

Are you sure? Because my chair is freakishly strong, and I think I could push you!”

Have you ever seen someone agree to something just so they can prove that it can’t be done? I’m quite certain that when the man agreed to accept my help, it was merely for that purpose. Regardless, I now had to safely get myself over to his side of Montrose and there was no light or crosswalk where I was waiting. Luckily, a gentleman in a truck saw my need and stopped both lanes of traffic on our side of the street.

He must have proudly thought that he had accomplished his good deed for the day by helping the little wheelchair girl cross the road. But instead of crossing the entire distance, I stopped halfway and positioned myself right behind the broken-down vehicle. I placed my feet on the back of his bumper and shouted at him.

“OK, put it in neutral!”

With the strength of an ox, or more accurately, with the strength of a $20,000 motorized wheelchair, I pushed the man and his car to the corner gas station. We even made it up the steep incline of the gas station’s driveway. The car came to a stop and he got out.

There are no words to describe his face other than to say he will probably be incapable of recreating the emotions he expressed to me that day with his dropped mouth and raised eyebrows. Regardless of his feelings, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much ...”

Surely Superman himself would have been proud of what I’d done, so with his same swiftness and charisma I smiled at the man and leapt back to my spot on the other side of Montrose in a single bound, my red cape blowing in the wind.

As this story is retold by friends and family, the vehicle goes from a sedan to a Hummer, and I pushed him not to the corner, but to a repair shop 10 miles down the freeway. And that’s fine with me. Because if people believe that I can do anything, I can.

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