As a founder of one of the biggest wheelchair dance teams in the world, Chelsie Hill is fulfilling a lifelong dream, even if it’s not in the way she had originally envisioned.

Showing promise as a toddler, the California native perfected her dance technique as she grew up. She won awards at state and national dance competitions. By the time high school graduation was in sight, things looked promising for Hill.

TRAGEDY, TRIUMPH: After an accident changed her life forever, Hill found of one of the biggest wheelchair dance teams in the world. Photos: Advantage PR

A tragic lesson learned

One evening, while out with pals, the 17-year-old rode with a friend who had been drinking alcohol. Their vehicle hit a tree head-on, snapping Hill’s back and leaving her a T-10 paraplegic.

When she woke, her hands were tied to the hospital bed. A breathing tube was down her throat.

"I passed out and woke up to a whole new world,” she recalls. “When the doctor came in I asked him, 'Why can’t I feel my legs?' The doctor looked down and just said, 'You have a spinal cord injury, which means you can’t walk.' The first thing I said was, 'But I’m a dancer', and he said 'Well, you won’t be able to dance again.’”

Getting past denial

"It didn't hit me this was my new reality until a few months after I didn't have any movement, feeling or function coming back,” says Hill. “I had a lot of amazing individuals come into my life who opened my eyes to life after injury. Once I realized I could make a difference in my own life and help others, it motivated me to keep going".

Since her accident, Chelsie has traveled the country, speaking to over 50,000 students about the choices they make. She and her father created the nonprofit Walk and Roll Foundation, which educates teens on distracted driving, and provides support to people living with spinal cord injuries.

BEAT BY BEAT: Being confined to a wheelchair doesn’t prevent Chelsie from living her dreams. “Forget walking,” she says. “I just want to dance.”

Moving forward

Chelsie teaches weekly wheelchair dance classes, and is busy promoting her denim line for women. She credits technology, specifically a wristband that connects via Bluetooth to a motorized wheel attached to the back of a chair, with helping her get around with greater ease.

As for her "never give up" approach: "I know what it feels like to be able-bodied, walking around living life like there's no tomorrow,” Hill says. “But I also know what it feels like to make a mistake that cannot be undone. I want to show students the consequences, but also show people who are injured that you can live a fulfilled life."