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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 97: Shelly Loose

Shelley Irwin welcomes the president of Ms. Wheelchair America, Shelly Loose

Shelly Loose serves as president of Ms. Wheelchair America and coordinates Ms. Wheelchair here in Michigan. She's even worn the crown herself. We get inspired by Shelly on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Produced by women, about women. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelley Irwin: She’s president of Ms. Wheelchair America, plus coordinates Ms. Wheelchair in her home state of Michigan. Of course, she's worn the crown herself so, let's hear her story. Welcome Shelly Loose to this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. It's good to be a Shelley.

Shelly Loose: It is. Shelley's are good.

Shelley Irwin: Good that you are here to share your powerful story and of course, I have to ask if you still have that crown from what, 2007.

Shelly Loose: Yes, I was Ms. Wheelchair Michigan in 2007 and yes, I still have the crown. I put it on, you know, just to make myself special.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, hopefully that's on a daily basis but, you are special. The things that you do for our community but, I need you to take us back a little to your beginnings, maybe even pre-wheelchair.

Shelly Loose: Wow. That was long time ago. I have been using a chair for 35 years. I had just finished college. I went to Aquinas and graduated with my degree in music education. I was almost done with my first year of college or first year of teaching and I swerved to miss a deer lost control the car and broke my neck.

Shelley Irwin: And 35 years later, would you go back?

Shelly Loose: Would I change it?

Shelly Irwin: Yes.

Shelly Loose: No.

Shelley Iriwn: I’ve heard that. Why do you say that?

Shelly Loose: Well, because when you're faced with that type of adversity, you realize how strong you are and you wouldn't have. I wouldn't be who I am if I had not lived through the experiences that I have and I wouldn't have a story to share that would impact others either.

Shelley Irwin: Let's talk about how you are special to us. You are involved in Miss Wheelchair Michigan and Ms. Wheelchair America. What's this all about?

Shelly Loose: Miss Wheelchair America is really an organization that is about empowering women. Now, you know, we don't say it's a pageant, we say it's a competition because the women are not judged on their outward appearance even though we're all beautiful. They are judged on their advocacy skills, on their ability to talk to others about disabilities, and how to make the world a better place.

Shelley Irwin: And to this date has it been successful? Has there been a new woman in crown that goes in shares are platform and represents women in chairs?

Shelly Loose: Oh, yes, 50 years. We are finishing our 50th year, 50th year of advocacy and we have crowned a new title every year except during the pandemic. We had to skip a year. So, one of our national title holders was title holder for 2 years.

Shelley Irwin: Nice. Bring me back again to your title of Miss Wheelchair, Michigan. What was your advocacy campaign?

Shelly Loose: My campaign was to reach children and get them to understand that disabilities are not something to be afraid of. The things that we do are things they do, we just may do them differently and to make sure that they understood that we’re just people, too. So I went around to 30 different elementary schools and would talk to them about my disability, ask them what they think I could do and we’d play a thumbs up, thumbs down like, you know, do you think I can drive and it's like, oh, no and you know, it's like no, thumbs up! I can drive. So, you know, it's just fun to do those types of things to interact with them, to show them that I could do things they didn't think I could.

Shelley Irwin: Yeah. Educate us on the American disabilities Act and any other facts and figures we should know.

Shelly Loose: Wow. The Americans with Disabilities Act actually was signed into law in 1990 and I was already a chair user so I can remember hearing or, seeing on the news that the Americans with Disabilities Act had been signed and I was like, oh, you know, kind of what is this and I never realized the impact that it would truly have on my life at first.

Shelley Irwin: What still needs to be done?

Shelly Loose: A lot. I think one of the things that I see is that these laws are in place, but many of them aren’t enforced. People don't know how to get them enforced. They don't know what their rights are but, I like to say, you know, don't make the changes because it's the law, make the changes because it's the right thing to do. Making the world accessible for all makes it accessible for all.

Shelley Irwin: Move into perhaps myths you’d like to dispel when it comes to using the chair in those who don't use a chair. What makes you boil?

Shelly Loose: OK. Dispelling some of the myths You know, there is life after a wheelchair. It can be amazing life, it can be a very successful life, you can you know, you're still going to have goals, you're still going to have dreams. You just need to pursue it. Keep continuing to pursue them, it may take a different avenue but, you know, if it's something you truly feel you want to do. There are ways to do it.

Shelley Irwin: Do you want us hold the door for you?

Shelly Loose: OK, I might not fit in with everyone else but, you know, yeah, you can hold the door for me because doors are probably one of the hardest things for me to deal with and I always make sure I say thank you and you know, on occasion I will say would you please open the door for me. I can open the door myself but, it's just nice to have that little bit of assistance when it saves me time and energy that I can use on something else.

Shelley Irwin: And I trust you want us to talk to you and not your caregiver about you.

Shelly Loose: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's quite interesting. My husband and I are both in wheelchairs. So, we go out to a restaurant, quite often it's who do we look at? Who do we talk to? You know, the kind of unsure and at that point I just always say “we would like or I would like,” you know, so just, you know, put them at ease right away and know that I'll talk for myself.

Shelley Irwin: Let’s spend some time talking about that husband tell me about your wedding day.

Shelly Loose: Wow. Haha, there were ten million people that attended our wedding. We were married in 1993.

Shelley Irwin: You said Ten million?

Shelly Loose: Ten million. Yeah. It was big wedding in 1993 in February. My husband and I were married on live with Regis and Kathie Lee and Regis was the best man. Kathy Lee was the matron of honor. It is hard to believe that it’s almost 30 years since that happened. It was incredible. Again, it's just one of those experiences that I wouldn't have experienced had I not been in my chair and if I hadn't had my disability.

Shelley Irwin: And you both met at a rehabilitation center?

Shelly Loose: Yes, we both met at Mary Free Bed rehabilitation center in Grand Rapids. It just so happened we were both in patients at the same time, he was injured two years after mine. I was back to work on some new skills and because his injury is the same as my injury, they had us working together so that I could, you know, as an expert teach him what things worked for me and how I get things. Little did I know you know, two years later he would be teaching me a whole lot more than I ever taught him.

Shelley Irwin: I think that they were just match making in the end and I understand that there's a child. Do dispel some myths.

Shelly Loose: Yes, definitely to dispel the myth. My husband and I were able to conceive. We conceived through University of Michigan, spinal cord fertility clinic and it was 33 round trips. We were determined and finally we conceived. I was able to carry her almost to term. She was 6 weeks early and everyone that's another myth is that she must have been a C-section and no, she was a natural birth.

Shelley Irwin: You remind her of that every day.

Shelly Loose: Yeah. Well actually labor with her was only 45 minutes. So, I say if everyone’s labor was like hers there would be a whole lot more children in the world.

Shelley Irwin: What do you say to a young woman who has just had an accident and is looking at using a wheelchair?

Shelly Loose: There is life. There will be struggles, but there is life and then I would talk to them about what I've overcome and how I've handled some of the challenges or point out other women and other people that have handled these situations. You know, if you want to go skydiving, you still can still go skydiving.

Shelley Irwin: You have.

Shelly Loose: I have. Yeah. You know, if you want to water ski, you can. There's adaptive equipment to make that happen. Snow skiing is another big one, golf, you name it and we can adapt to a sport.

Shelley Irwin: What’s still on your bucket list?

Shelly Loose: I'm pretty old. So, I'm not as brave as I used to be. Boy, a bucket list. That's a hard one.

Shelley Irwin: You’ll have to get back to us on that.

Shelly Loose: I can do that.

Shelley Irwin: I guess in conclusion, what is the future of those with disabilities, with the hopefully laws with society becoming aware that we're all equal?

Shelly Loose: I think now is a perfect time for acceptance and everyone is, you know, we're all learning and changing about accepting people even though they are different, you know, and respect their differences. So, I really think that or I hope that things for people with disabilities will start to get better and we will just be part of the fabric. We won't stand out and people won't notice us you know, think that we're weird or be afraid to talk to us because we have a disability. I think that's kind of one of the other myths that if you have a physical disability, you also have a mental disability and that's not necessarily true. Sometimes it is but, even those people with their cognitive impairments have something to offer.

Shelley Irwin: Wow. Ten million at your wedding if each would have given you a dollar for like a wedding gift.

Shelly Loose: Yeah, that would have been amazing. That would have been so much.

Shelley Irwin: You could probably find the best wheelchair you could find.

Shelly Loose: Yes, I think so.

Shelley Irwin: You’re powerful Shelly Loose. Thank you for this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk and sharing your story with us.

Shelly Loose: Thank you a lot, Shelley.


>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
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