Michael wears the men's Rolli shirt made of soft spun cotton with shortened front and deep side vents. The pants are the Khaki Stretch Rolli-Rockers.
Michael Sleeseman talks 150 words a minute and thinks even faster, mostly about his involvement with the Disability Awareness Committee for Sister Cities International, an organization that promotes everything from educational exchanges between cities to--thanks to Sleeseman--ideas on how cities can become more wheelchair accessible. "The U.S. sets the global standard for how to interact with people with disabilities, and we help the U.S. share what we've done with other countries and other cultures," says Sleeseman.
After a 1993 car accident left Sleeseman a T12 para with a head injury, his sense of self took a nosedive. "My organizational and spatial skills are all askew. And the emotional and physical losses ... I was devastated," he says.
After years of cognitive and physical therapy, he regained enough confidence to volunteer for Phoenix Sister Cities. He loved the organization and poured himself into his volunteer work with the group. Now he co-chairs the committee. "Sister Cities is my life, my purpose," says Sleeseman, 31.
Sleeseman says he's been looking for a way to regain the individuality he lost after his accident. So he signed up for acting and modeling classes, a path that lead him straight to the NM/Rolli-Moden contest, although he is quick to note entering the contest wasn't his idea. "A film producer friend of mine got me into this. She said I photograph well, she's heard me speak in public and says I'm a natural." His friend was right.
Alana wears a short sleeved rib-knit, button-front shirt and slim fit ladies stretch pants.
Disability With Panache
Winning the NM/Rolli-Moden contest is fun but kind of hectic, says Alana Yvonne Wallace, a polio survivor from Chicago. "Between getting the Rolli-Moden clothes shipment and setting up the photo shoot, I've been in full swing," says Wallace. She didn't even think about entering the contest until a vendor approached her at the Chicago Abilities Expo. "She kept saying I should submit the pictures," says Wallace. "I thought about it for a little while, then I got home and read the details. I liked the caption: 'Do you wear your disability with panache?'"
The message reverberated with her. "I've always advocated for people with disabilities to be seen in a positive light," she says. A professional wheelchair dancer, Wallace is founder and artistic director of Dance Detour, Chicago's first "mixed ability" dance company. She has collaborated professionally with renowned dance companies such as Mikhail Baryshinikov's White Oak Dance Project, The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Bryant Ballet and The Chicago Moving Company.
Now, thanks to the contest, Wallace is a model and a top-class dancer, which fits in nicely with her expanding worldview. "Now that I'm 50, I feel like life is beginning again. My kids are off to college, I'm growing spiritually, I'm a lot more confident," she says. "Also I'm at a place where I embrace my disability. ... There are things that would not have come into focus with me if I did not have my disability. So I don't just accept it or tolerate it, I embrace it ... all the differences in people--race, age, disability, all of it."
Rolli-Moden offers several suits, including a tux.
Living in Full Color
"I cut out the Rolli-Moden article every time I read New Mobility for months," says Christopher Grobbel, of Shelby Township, Mich. "I wasn't going to enter, but then I thought, why not?"
What finally motivated him? "NM wasn't looking just for looks, but for people with a different perspective, and I fit that bill. I'm a businessman, a consumer, a husband to Donna and a father to Ashton, my 10-year-old son, so I bring a lot of different things to the table. I don't fit the 'typical' mold."
Grobbel, 42, founded the first of his four companies, Action Wood Technology, before his car accident. His three post-injury companies are a result of his making his disability experience into something useful. He founded Freedom Driving Aids because he figured he can't be the only wheelchair user who wants affordable vans. Crosstrainers Fitness Forum came from his desire to work out at a cutting edge health club for people with and without disabilities, "I figured heck, why not--I'm already in debt, so I'll go in debt more." Spectrum Exotic Design builds and decorates barrier-free homes. "Accessible homes are so sterile sometimes," says Grobbel. "We need artsy and fun and eclectic."
Grobbel, a C7-T1 quad, says "Life doesn't stop after an injury and I'm living proof. I'll be damned if I don't have fun with this, in bright colors." His philosophy is simple: "Get busy living or get busy dying, but get off that pity band wagon. Have some fun!"
Kelly wears the cool weather jacket with detachable hood and two-way zipper, and ladies stretch pants.
A Winner, Not a Whiner
Her first and only year in Santa Barbara, Calif., Kelly Giannattasio, 28, waited tables at a fancy resort and met stars like Glenn Close, Michael Douglas and Tyra Banks. She calls Matt LeBlanc, the Friends star, high-maintenance. "Matt wanted poached eggs in the middle of the afternoon and I had to go deal with a chef who's considered a god at a four or five star restaurant. And then he had to have Evian!"
Months after she moved to California from the Midwest, Giannattasio crashed her car while speeding without wearing a seatbelt, sustaining a T12 injury. Unlike her famous customer, Giannattasio's not a whiner. She figures since she can't go back in time, she can at least share her story with others who take risks while driving.
"I love my involvement with the Young Traffic Offenders Program," says the Kansas City, Mo., travel agent. "I had one girl come up to me, crying, saying she was never going to drink or drive again, and she thanked me for coming. Then I had to go back to my job as a corporate travel agent ... I got so much more out of that half hour speaking than I did out of my job that day."
So why'd she enter a modeling contest? "I guess I've struggled with my self-esteem regarding my appearance since my car accident and I just wanted to see ... I didn't even think something like modeling was an option after I got hurt." Now she knows she's a winner.