Television

'Your life isn't over, it's just the beginning.' How community helped after a life-altering accident

A community of Edmonton friends, portrayed in the CBC series Push, helped Roneel Gounder get his groove back.

Roneel Gounder missed dancing more than walking, but friends helped him get his groove back

Roneel and Aleem, both sitting in their wheelchairs, are in the street festival talking to each other.
Roneel and Aleem at the Fringe Festival in Edmonton. (PUSH Productions Inc.)

I grew up in an Indian household where strict discipline and family tradition shaped my identity.

A life-altering accident in December 2021 when I was 24 years old, put me on an unexpected journey to build a new life. I met a community of friends in wheelchairs, portrayed in the CBC docuseries Push, who helped me adapt to adversity.

In my family, education was paramount and conformity to traditional values was non-negotiable. I longed for independence and wanted to explore the world beyond my sheltered life. 

Participating in sports, from Bollywood dance to soccer to kickboxing gave me freedom from my family's expectations. I felt liberated and it was a place where I excelled outside of school. 

I also found support from an amazing partner. Although it was a relationship that didn't adhere to my family's cultural norms, our love grew and we got engaged with my parents' approval. 

But, life unfolds in unforeseen ways. A tobogganing accident left me paralyzed and shattered the future I had envisioned. The world I knew transformed overnight.

I spent six agonizing months in the hospital after my injury. Each day of physical therapy felt like an eternity. As my body grappled with its new limitations, my mind plunged into a deep abyss of despair. 

I yearned to go back to that night and change what had happened to me. I thought of myself as incapable, a 'cripple'. For the rest of my life, I would have to rely on someone and never be independent again. I wished this hadn't happened to me; I was ready to end it all.

After my discharge, when I thought that nothing could get worse in my life, it did. The emotional toll of paralysis strained my engagement to its breaking point. The person I thought would be my lifelong partner could not navigate the complexities of my changing life and we broke up. The cultural gaze that had scrutinized our relationship shifted to judgment about a broken engagement adding another layer of heartbreak.

The Wheelie Peeps sit in a semi circle in their wheelchair. Bean and Roneel are talking and gesturing.
The Wheelie Peeps gather at the Fringe Festival in Edmonton. (PUSH Productions Inc.)

Then, I met Bean at ReYu, a rehabilitation facility that she founded, and she gave me hope. She told me, "Your life isn't over, it's just the beginning." She introduced me to the rest of 'Wheelie Peeps', a close community of friends who have all faced similar adversity. Connecting with them gave me hope for a life of acceptance, adaptation and renewed purpose. As they shared stories of triumph over adversity, they showed me how to face life's challenges with grace and resilience. 

Their practical insights into navigating life in a wheelchair helped me reimagine my potential. And their emotional support helped me break through the isolation I felt in the aftermath of my breakup. I've discovered strength in vulnerability through the power of shared experiences.

Watch | Roneel says he missed dancing the most after his accident

Roneel says he misses dancing most of all | Push

3 months ago
Duration 0:38
Roneel Gounder was paralyzed in an accident several years ago and now uses a wheelchair.

I decided to weave my passion for dance into my new chapter of healing. Fueled by the desire to create something out of pain, I founded a dance group called BollyWheels. Our rehearsals became a sanctuary where emotions were translated into choreography. Each movement was a step forward in my personal growth. 

As the dance group flourished, so did my resilience. Empowered, we broke social norms through movement. I found solace and cultivated a community. By dancing through our disability, we prove that even in heartbreak and physical limitations, there can be strength.

Watch | The BollyWheels perform in Edmonton

Dance group BollyWheels perform in Edmonton | Push

3 months ago
Duration 1:07
BollyWheels was founded by Roneel Gounder who appears in Season 2 of docuseries Push

I am grateful for the lessons I have learned along the way. Through the Wheelie Peeps, I discovered my spirit and the endless possibilities that can unfold with an open heart and a determined soul.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A Bollywood dancer for eight years and a wheelchair user for just over a year, Roneel is the newest member of the Wheelie Peeps.

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