25-Year-Old Starts Wheelchair Dance Team After Car Crash Leaves Her Paralyzed: 'I Had a Passion'
"I remember reaching up and trying to push into my legs to get out of the car — kind of like a dream," Chelsie Hill tells PEOPLE
After a car accident left then 17-year-old Chelsie Hill paralyzed from the belly button down, she found her way back to her passion: dancing.
The California native, now 25, was in the back seat of her friend’s car while coming back home from a party in 2010 when the driver missed a curb and flipped the car, leaving Hill “feeling stuck.”
“I remember reaching up and trying to push into my legs to get out of the car — kind of like a dream,” she tells PEOPLE. “I don’t remember seeing anything, then I remember holding on to someone’s hand and feeling really scared.”
About two weeks later, Hill was recovering in the hospital when she woke up and the doctor told her she had a spinal cord injury.
“He goes, ‘You can’t walk anymore.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to just walk, I want to dance.’ And he just looked at me and shook his head,” she says. “And I was like, ‘What?’ ”
“At 17, I had no idea that this was even possible — that you could walk one day and the next day wake up and not be able to feel your legs.”
For Hill, who has been performing since she was only 3 years old, dance was a huge part of her life. She had competed all over the country and achieved varsity status on her high school’s team up until the accident during her senior year.
Although her life completely changed — she had to relearn how to sit in a chair, touch the floor without falling, how to get dressed, shower and even put on pants — she never lost her will to dance.
“One of the long nights with my dad at my bedside, I woke up and my medicine shot off and so I had a really bad nightmare and I woke up in excruciating pain,” she says. “And when he was able to calm me down, I was like, ‘Why me?’ That was the one time — I think the only time, really — I was like, ‘Why me?’ I had a passion, I had a drive.”
Hill says her dad then suggested starting a non-profit to raise money for people to get wheelchairs, which in turn became the Walk and Roll Foundation.
But Hill still wanted to incorporate her passion for dance back into her life and decided to create the Rollettes — a group of six women who are in wheelchairs and love to dance.
“I had no idea that this would ever come from it,” Hill says. “I do dance intensives every six months for people all over the United States and the last two times, we had 18 dancers come in. It’s just been really cool. I get to meet girls that are my age that have never hung out with another girl in a chair.”
“We’re able to ask each other things like, ‘How do you wear heels?’ ‘How do you get dressed in your chair?’ ‘How do you have sex?’ — girl things you don’t ask your parents and you don’t ask your friends that are able bodies because they have no idea.”
Joining the foundation, whose mission is to fund “life-changing spinal cord research,” has been a dream of Hill’s for years and she says she wanted to be “all-in” when it came to her involvement.
As part of her partnership, Red Bull paired her with L.A. dancer Josh Killacky to star in a music video (see below), which Hill says was an exciting experience.
“Just the fact that they have been able to make that contact for me has been amazing,” she says. ” It was so fun shooting this video.”
To join Hill’s team for the Wings for Life World Run produced by Red Bull on May 7, click here.