When Ali Stroker grew to become the primary actor in a wheelchair ever to win a Tony Award on June 9, she was proud to be breaking limitations for the disabled neighborhood—however she was additionally merely thrilled that her years of dedication to the craft was lastly paying off.
“What I liked about winning was that it didn’t just feel like, ‘Oh, you did something to overcome being in a chair,’” she tells PEOPLE. “It was actually, ‘We’re recognizing you for being at the highest level of your field.’ That’s what I’ve always wanted.”
The vivacious New Jersey-native, who’s incomes rave evaluations and a spotlight for her position as flirty Ado Annie within the newest revival of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! has been in a wheelchair since a automobile accident at age 2 left her paralyzed from chest down. “One day your life is one way, the next it is completely different,” she says of the accident, which additionally concerned her mom and brother.
She credit her tight household unit with ensuring her upbringing was as typical as anybody else’s, however there have been after all bodily limitations when it got here to sports activities or extracurricular actions. However when she was 7, she found that singing and appearing was one factor she might just do in addition to everybody else. She remembers the primary time she was ever onstage, in a yard play placed on by a greatest good friend and neighbor.
“It was a moment of feeling really powerful and in charge and so different than how I felt in my skin anywhere else in the world,” she says. “People were watching me and looking at me, but I was in control of why they were looking. And then I could sing, so I was getting a lot of positive attention for that.”
For extra about Stroker, decide up this week’s challenge of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
When she graduated highschool, she enrolled at NYU for drama and says she actually discovered her calling in a metropolis that, regardless of being an unimaginable unfriendly place at occasions to get round in a wheelchair, was additionally considerably embracing.
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“When I looked at colleges, I would tour the campus, and I felt like kids were staring at me. At NYU nobody stared, because I wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d seen on the street at all,” she says. After all, it’s not simple. “I’ve found myself in the rain with no cabs stopping for me and just cursing in the street, thinking, ‘This is so unfair,’” she says. “But being here has given me the confidence to try a new city sometime—I just know I can manage it, because I managed New York.”
When she was first solid as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, the Circle within the Sq. theater wasn’t even geared up for somebody in a wheelchair to get onstage. She says her boyfriend, theater director and actor David Perlow needed to carry her up the steps and across the stage space to determine how she would get round. However her efficiency outshone any limitations she needed to overcome.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, a limitation, a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are!” stated Stroker, after successful the award. She now hopes people who find themselves differently-abled will see a job mannequin in her.
“It sends a strong message, not being able to find yourself,” she says of rising up and by no means seeing somebody in a wheelchair on TV or the massive display screen. “The disabled community is the largest minority community in the world, and most of the time it’s underrepresented,” she says. “What are people afraid of?”