Quadriplegic Beats the Odds — and Lands Major Modeling Campaign

08/24/2012 at 03:00 PM ET

Push Girls Diane Bondareff for Sundance

You often hear that tenacity and perseverance are musts for any model who wants to succeed in the industry. Well, Angela Rockwood has those in spades.

After breaking into the business, she was in a horrific car accident that left her in a wheelchair. But instead of giving up, Rockwood decided that her injuries (which stripped her of the use of her legs and left her with extremely limited use of her arms) shouldn’t stop her from doing what she loves. And 11 years after that life-changing accident, she has achieved something she dreamed about, but never thought would really happen: Rockwood is modeling again, in a national campaign for Nordstrom.

Rockwood is one of the stars of Push Girls, a Sundance Channel series about the lives of four women bound to wheelchairs — and her story of breaking back into the business has been one of the most inspiring of the season.

“After my accident, the thought of modeling didn’t even cross my mind,” the 37-year-old, who identifies as quadriplegic, tells PEOPLE. “But what did occur to me was that I had been transported to the realm of the paralyzed for a reason. I realized I had a huge choice to make: to go down the positive path, be an example for others in similar positions and be a voice.”

To have her voice heard, Rockwood wanted to do something she knew how to do: model. “There weren’t many models in chairs to make a statement like, ‘Hey we are the consumers too!’ and ‘Who doesn’t want to look sexy or fashionable sitting in a wheelchair?'” she explains.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way; Nordstrom had been looking for models with disabilities to be featured in an upcoming campaign. So Rockwood submitted her photos to a casting agency. “The rest was history,” she adds, happily.

Though she’s working under different circumstances than she did prior to the accident, nothing else has changed much, in her opinion. “When I was on set for Nordstrom, I felt like I was at ‘home’ again,” Rockwood says. “It was like throwing a fighter back in the ring to win their belt after a major setback from a recovering injury.”

To see Rockwood’s Nordstrom campaign shoot, watch the season finale of Push Girls, airing Monday, Aug. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on the Sundance Channel. And get an exclusive sneak peek below!

–Jennifer Cress

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , Fashion , Models , TV & Movies

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Showing 76 comments

Fred Nader on

Congratulations Ang.

cherfer on

awesome! however, I think she should be identified as a parapalegic, because she is obviously using her arms.

Sue Sowle on

Beauty inside and out…well done Nordstrom for recognizing a true professional! Count me in as a lifetime Nordstrom consumer… And Angela… May I just say… PERFECTION!

LMW on

So glad for her! What an inspiration.
@cherfer: I think she has extremely limited use of her arms; you can see that by how thin her arms are. And after watching the show, I know she almost has no use of her hands. They are permanently clenched, she can’t open them up; she has to ‘force’ (insert) an object into her gripped hands.

Amani on

How inspiring???? Need I say more? Now I will become Nordstrom consumer for life – for as long as I live in America. Big kudos for Nordstrom.

Emily on

Here is hoping that more popular places (Forever 21, Macy’s, H&M, Old Navy, GAP…to name a few) follow in these inspirational footsteps. Thank you, Nordstrom, for being the example that all ages, gender, and races, could and should, aspire to.

Angie on

I saw her interviewed and she is so nice and beautiful. Good for her! You go girl :)

sarahv229 on

You can be a quadriplegic and still have the use of your arms…for instance, someone may lose the use of their triceps, but still have use of their biceps, yet they will be classified as a quadriplegic over a paraplegic because there is damage to their arms due to the level of their spinal injury.

Eri on

Beautiful story

Bec215 on

Bravo on all fronts! I do hope brands can evolve to showing a disabled model NOT in a wheelchair, too – it’s so common to see shoots with models lounging on sofas, reclining in nature, etc…. no reason a disabled model cannot also do those types of shoots. She might not be able to walk a runway, but there’s no reason her wheelchair needs to be front-and-center (other than good PR, of course)…

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