Until recently, Mandy Ruzicka’s literary claim to fame was that she was the inspiration for her sister’s successful “Wendy on Wheels” book series for children.
Now, she’s a published author herself.
With “Fun Wheeled American Style,” Mandy, a Paraquad participant who has spina bifida, shares personal stories in the hope of raising awareness that people with disabilities can — and do — find plenty of opportunities for personal enjoyment and satisfaction.
“I can do things like anyone else, just maybe in a different way,” said Mandy, 31. “I wanted to stress that I am a normal person.”
The book got its start when Mandy, who said she sometimes has difficulty remembering things, challenged herself to write down some of her favorite memories. When she finished a story, she showed her dad, Tony Ruzicka, who asked, “‘What? Is that your manuscript?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, kind of.'”
As she continued to write, she found another source of inspiration.
“I chose to write ‘Fun Wheeled American Style’ because a lot of my friends feel unmotivated, like they don’t feel that they can contribute — they don’t have things they can look forward to,” Mandy explained.
“It bothers me that some people in my situation don’t feel like they can contribute to society. ‘Oh, I have spina bifida,’ or, ‘I have this; I can’t do that.’ And I wanted to change that.”
The book includes 32 chapters with stories ranging from musings on the joys of running over bubble wrap in a power wheelchair to performing in a choir in the White House as part of Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis. Spontaneity, creativity and a determination to enjoy herself are recurring themes.
Not coincidentally, the title character in Angela Ruzicka’s “Wendy on Wheels” book series shares similar traits. Angela, Mandy’s older sister, has published four books featuring a heroine whose use of a wheelchair sets the stage for educational and positive stories about overcoming obstacles and changing attitudes.
In the upcoming installment of the series, Mandy said, Angela drew on her sister’s experience in joining a school choir. Initially rebuffed by the teacher because the choir room was not accessible, Wendy campaigns for change, mirroring a real-life incident in which Mandy advocated successfully to have a stair lift installed so she could sing with her peers.
The message she shares through her own book and as the inspiration for her sister’s books is about the pursuit of fun and changing perceptions of people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are normal. It’s just like having brown hair. A disability is just something we have; we’re not defined by that. We’re not defined by our disabilities. It’s just something that happened.”
Kevin Condon is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Paraquad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.