NYers of the Week: Alex Elegudin, Yannick Benjamin Help the Disabled Speed Ahead
Our New Yorkers of the Week were bounded by life-changing accidents, but they helped each other move forward -- and today, they're using their experience to empower others to do the same. Roma Torre filed the following report.
Whether it's skydiving, water skiing, or boxing, Alex Elegudin and Yannick Benjamin help New Yorkers with disabilities put their lives back in motion.
It’s what they did for each other more than a decade ago after separate car accidents.
"We happened to be roommates in the rehab unit in Mount Sinai," says Elegudin. "Dealing with families, dealing with all the issues that we were dealing with when we sustained our spinal cord injuries, we were really there to pick each other up."
Today, Alex and Yannick give that support to others across the city. In 2011, the native New Yorkers co-founded the non-profit, "Wheeling Forward."
"Our goal is to really try to get people back on track into everyday life and get them reinvigorated into their passions and help them achieve their goals," explains Benjamin. "I want them to feel as if they never felt that they were in a wheelchair."
That empowerment builds throughout the year.
The non-profit donates wheelchairs, advocates for supportive housing, hosts adaptive sports, and runs The Axis Project – a specialized fitness center in East Harlem.
"This is my second home away from home," says particpant Lisa Rivera. "I try to come as often as I can. I'm going through whatever I go through, but I can come here and I can socialize, I can get my workout, and I feel accomplished every time I leave here."
"Wheeling Forward" has helped give hundreds of New Yorkers that sense of renewed confidence and community.
"It's honestly a place of refuge for a lot of us," says participant Eli Ramos. "Everyone is here to support each other and work together, work hard in a safe and nurturing environment. "
"I didn't have a wheelchair community before Alex and Yannick and Moving Forward," says participant Tara Accetta. "So by them introducing me and inviting me places, they make you feel a little bit less alone in the world, and it's incredible."
And so, for helping navigate the health of people with disabilities, Alex Elegudin and Yannick Benjamin are our New Yorkers of the Week.