Ali Stroker Made History As First Person on Broadway in a Wheelchair

"For a long time I didn't even use the word disability. I was like, this is just me."

Broadway has launched plenty of stars over the years. However, one person actually changed history on the stage. In 2015, singer and actor Ali Stroker became the first to star in a Broadway musical using a wheelchair in a revival of "Spring Awakening." Stroker was also the first disabled performer to win a Tony Award.

When Stroker was two years old, a spinal cord injury from a car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. The New Jersey native has used a wheelchair since then. However, her wheelchair hasn't kept her from pursuing the stage.

Being Your Biggest Advocate

Stroker first fell in love with musical theater when she was 7, after performing in a neighborhood production of "Annie." Growing up, Stroker seized any opportunity to act, including a starring role in an elementary school production of "The Wizard of Oz."

After high school, Stroker began studying at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She studied musical theater and saw as many Broadway performances as possible.

"I learned that I was my biggest advocate and that no one was going to do this for me. I have to do it myself," Stroker told Health. "After I graduated, it was really difficult to get auditions and try to find work because of my disability. So, I just kept showing up to shows, even if I wasn't performing."

Stroker Becomes the First Person on Broadway in a Wheelchair

Through persistence and networking, Stroker landed a spot on the second season of "The Glee Project" in 2012, a competition reality show for a role on the Fox TV series "Glee." She was the runner-up, but even without that first-place title, the show brought her success.

That first role helped open the door to dozens of other acting opportunities, such as in ABC's series "Ten Days in the Valley" and Fox's "Lethal Weapon." 

In 2015, Stroker made her Broadway debut in a revival of "Spring Awakening." Stroker made history as the first person in a wheelchair to ever perform on Broadway. In 2019, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress for her role in the Broadway musical "Oklahoma!"

"That really changed my life," said Stroker. "It was this beautiful moment of feeling like I was seen and heard and celebrated and accepted by the community that I had dreamed of being a part of."

Advocating for the Disabled Community

Since winning her Tony Award, Stroker has continued her acting career, starring in several TV shows and performing in a one-woman show. She has also worked to inspire other women and members of the disabled community

In 2020, Stroker became part of the #AerieREAL Role Model campaign, a body positivity and inclusivity initiative led by Aerie. The campaign allowed Stroker to give back to a cause she cares about, reminding her that people are watching and looking to her as a role model.

"It took me years to get to this point in my life because growing up was challenging," said Stroker. "There were times I just wanted to be like everyone else, but I'm just not. Now, I feel so lucky to not be normal."

Using a wheelchair can get frustrating, explained Stroker. At times, Stroker can feel stuck in her own body. However, because her injury is permanent, the only thing she can do is live her life and continue to pursue what makes her happy, added Stroker.

"Because I was injured when I was so young, it's like, this has always been me," said Stroker. "So, it's almost weird to even call it a diagnosis, and for a long time, I didn't even use the word disability. I was like, this is just me. So, I was kind of thinking people were putting it on as a label, but I was like, 'Wait, this is just me.' It's who I am. This is my life, my body, and it's the way that I experience the world."

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