I am Tamara Mena and I am 30 years old. I’m a host, model, and motivational speaker. I’m a wheelchair user and paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury, acquired at the age of 19, right when I felt invincible… I had just moved to San Diego, the city of my dreams and all my plans were going exactly as I had hoped. On a Saturday night, we were riding in a taxicab, on our way to Rosarito to go dancing, but we never made it. We collided with a horse that was randomly standing in the middle of the highway. I became paralyzed from the chest down (T2), and unfortunately, my boyfriend at the time, Patrick, was killed. I was absolutely heartbroken and felt powerless when all of this happened. But thanks to the amazing support of my mom, family, and friends, I moved forward. I chose to live my life as a survivor and appreciate all that I have and not complain about my situation, for I had survived when other people in that same car didn’t. As much as the pain was insurmountable for losing my boyfriend of three years and my ability to walk, I knew God would grant me the strength to move forward and focused on what I could still do.
I felt helpless for some time when I had severe medical complications and couldn’t get back to school. My lifelong goal was to graduate from college. I always had seemed to have “it all together.” Acquiring a SCI was very difficult to adjust to, but you are ABLE to overcome anything. I never gave up on my dreams or goals most of all. No matter how physically ill I was, I always kept my desire to succeed and my spirits up, and I just knew I would graduate from college one day. I went back to school, and even though, I experienced many ups and downs during my undergrad, I graduated with my B.A. in communication with the highest honors and numerous academic awards, as well as becoming the first commencement speaker in a wheelchair at CSUS.
I haven’t stopped pursuing other dreams either. As a model, I went back to modeling after my accident, and have been fortunate to model on different runways, including New York Fashion Week; although, I wish there were more opportunities for models who happen to have different abilities. I hope to see more progress and inclusion. But we have to pave the way and create those opportunities. In 2013, I made history on Spanish television by making it into a very famous beauty competition, Nuestra Belleza Latina. I was the first woman in a wheelchair selected, competing against thousands of women with full abilities.
But not everything has been easy… I had just decided I would move to LA to pursue hosting when I had a second car accident, that I was “very lucky to survive” as the paramedics said, but which was very difficult to overcome. In some ways, it was more difficult than the first one, mentally. But I knew I couldn’t give up on life or on my dreams… and I am still continuing on with my life goals. My faith and knowing God has protected me more than once is what has helped me carry on.
This is how I chose to look at this second car accident; we all fall down in life, and not just once. Sometimes we fall down so hard and when you least expect it, but WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO GET BACK UP. You decide to get back up! So I thanked God for all he had done in my life, and I got back up and realized this was just going to be another obstacle I’d have to overcome in my journey in life. To God be the glory.
After that, with support from my family, I retook my plans to move down to LA to grow in my career in all ways, hoping to break stereotypes in the entertainment industry. All in all, I just want to be respected, appreciated for my talent and just be seen for who I am. I want for people to see past my wheelchair, past my differences.
Getting people to see beyond my wheelchair, any “limitations” or past any differences all together is what I’m fighting for. By raising awareness in all that I do, to break stereotypes and get people to become more inclusive, I hope I can help inspire change and create more opportunities for others. I am passionate about motivating people, and one of my missions in life is empowering women, women of all walks of life. For that, I have created the “Embrace YOU Project” to encourage ALL women to accept and EMBRACE their beauty and all that they are! I am currently working on the second edition of the Embrace YOU Project.