Model: Nikki Saltzburg
Spinal Cord Injury, Paraplegic
I am a daughter, mother, wife, friend, helper, teacher and mentor. I have claimed many other labels at different times in my life – athlete, honors student, class president, and Girl Scout to name a few. More than anything else, though, my experience navigating the world has been and continues to be most influenced by my understanding of myself through the lens of disability, gender, and sexual identity. I was paralyzed from the waist down due to a spinal cord injury shortly after birth, so my disability has been a part of every stage of my life.
Although it comes with challenges like many doctor’s visits, inconvenient bodily quirks, and interactions that range from the offensive to the hilarious, it has also presented me with many opportunities. From a young age, I learned to advocate for myself and adapt to systems full of physical and attitudinal obstacles using humor, flexibility, perspective taking, and gratitude. As a teenager and young woman who played on the wheelchair tennis tour, not only did I get to travel and compete, but I connected with a diverse group of women with disabilities from all over the world. This broadened my awareness of the many ways I could be a successful and empowered woman, and it was truly a gift. I began exploring my sexuality in my teens and connected with the LGBTQ community in college. I came out as a lesbian when I was 19 and have been passionate about doing advocacy, outreach and mental health work in the community since then. I studied psychology in college and retired from the tennis tour in 2004 to pursue a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.
I currently work as a staff psychologist and LGBTQ Coordinator the Florida Atlantic University Counseling Center and also have a private practice. I think my own experience of not always feeling like I’ve had access, space or role models – have helped develop a deep empathy for people who feel different, misunderstood or unseen. My family life is what I am most grateful for, and the thing that keeps me grounded. I have wife who is fiercely loving and compassionate. We have been married for 8 years, and 4 years ago we welcomed our son Parker to the world. Mothering him has been my most exciting, gratifying, challenging and (sometimes) maddening adventure to date!
Photographed by Milcho