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An early winter storm just dumped seven feet of snow on the mountains near Mammoth, California, and Mimi Emery can hardly wait to hit the powder. She lives a life most women dream about, splitting her time between Toronto, where she co-owns a custom tattoo shop downtown, and a slope-side cabin in Mammoth, where she lives with her boyfriend and ski instructor Jeremy. She's also a SCUBA enthusiast, an avid equestrian, and the Canadian spokesmodel for Quickie Wheelchairs. She's a Libra, a T7 paraplegic, and one of the freest people you will ever meet.
For example: she's free of a boss. From a really young age, I always knew that I wanted to go into business for myself, she says. After her spinal chord injury, Emery taught horseback riding and cello lessons for a living. I used the skills that I'd acquired throughout my life and put them towards making money for myself.
She calls opening her own business a leap of faith which she took with her best friend Thomas, shop co-owner and award-winning artist. He'd been in the tattoo business since we met, as teenagers, and he'd always wanted to have his own shop. He asked me if I wanted a stake in the business, she explains. I knew about the tattoo industry, and I really loved the idea of being able to say that I owned my own business before I was 30. Emery has several expansion projects in the works for the shop, including a tattoo-inspired clothing line and a sister-shop slated to open in southern California.
She feels most free whenever she rides her horses, Teddy and Riot. My earliest memories aren't of walking; they're of being on a horse." When Emery's doctors told her not to expect to continue jumping, or riding at all, after her injury, she decided to prove exactly the opposite. I didn't have an adaptive saddle, so I got some Velcro and made some straps to hold my feet and legs in riding position. Thank God I had a coach when I was younger who taught me how to fall! But then, there's that saying: if you haven't had a hundred falls, you're not a good rider.
And after months of practice, something in her body finally clicked. It's like I awakened nerves, and muscles that I didn't have use of before were somehow getting stronger. And one day, I had Teddy at a canter, and realized that I hadn't fallen off. She's since started jumping again, and plans are in the works to take her horses to Mammoth and ride off into the sunset.
Aside from business ventures and recreation, personal freedom is a big reason for her move west. I've had friends literally leave Toronto for other cities because wheelchair accessibility here is so horrendous. I live independently: I drive, I work, and I do everything on my own. But if I'm downtown, I need somebody with me, because there's always a flight of stairs or something stupid. I have a really, really small wheelchair and I'm really, really athletic, so if it's hard for me, I can only imagine what it's like for a quadriplegic, or someone with a powerchair. This is the biggest city in Canada, and it's not accessible?
It's not just municipalities that are lagging behind, Emery says, slamming Canadian universities for being as out of date as our cities. If a kid uses a wheelchair and wants to go to school but he can't because he can't get to class? That's kind of stupid. The solution, in Emery's view, is legislation similar to the Americans With Disabilities Act that makes real, functional accessibility a legal necessity for all business owners.
But with no such legislation on the horizon in Canada, Emery is saying so long to the cold grey skies of the eastern seaboard. San Diego and Hawaii are both calling her name, but where she'll actually end up next is totally open. And that's exactly the way she likes it.
Photo: marcduf/Thinkstock