ELLSWORTH — It is not new news that Chelsea Vietti is an inspiration to many.
Since surviving a car accident that left her paralyzed nearly 11 years ago, Vietti, 32, has become a dance teacher, peer mentor and found love with her husband, Justin. The pair will celebrate their two-year anniversary in July.
Besides her go-getter attitude, Vietti seeks to educate others with injuries like hers — reminding them that they can do anything they set their minds to.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever know why I was chosen to survive my accident,” the Ellsworth woman reflected in a recent interview. “Maybe it’s to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves.”
Vietti’s advocacy comes in many forms.
As a peer mentor with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, she is matched with people across the country who have injuries like hers, which is a break in the C5 vertebra.
Through texting and phone calls, Vietti shares a listening ear, support and knowledge.
She talks to her mentees about physical changes the body undergoes after sustaining such an injury and how to confront the stigma that comes with being in a wheelchair.
She shares with them — and the community at large — an important lesson she learned over a decade ago when she was first recovering from her accident at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga.
“You can do anything you want to do. It’s just finding out what way to do it,” Vietti said, calling the lesson a “really important message for people to understand.”
“There’s way more to me than just the wheelchair,” she said.
For Vietti, “doing anything” has meant staying deeply connected to her love of dance.
She recalls being devastated at the notion that she couldn’t dance following her injury. After talking with nurses and caregivers at the Shepherd Center, she realized, “I knew that I needed to be a part of the studio.”
Now running Ellsworth’s Libitzki School of Dance that her mother started nearly 50 years ago, Vietti is teaching classes and busily preparing for the school’s annual recital.
This year, her students are gearing up for their presentation of “Peter and the Wolf,” which will be performed — costumes and choreography galore — at The Grand without an audience due to the pandemic. The performance will be recorded and released in July.
“In a weird way, it’s a huge reality check,” Vietti said of her injury. “Maybe I’m meant to do something,” she adds, including operating a dance school that is accepting of everyone, regardless of physical or mental disabilities.
Along with her perseverance to accomplish her goals, Vietti has a committed support system.
“I couldn’t do what I do without every person that I have in my life,” she said.
This includes her husband of almost two years, Justin.
“[I] have honestly met the love of my life,” Vietti said, noting that she may not have met him had her life not taken the drastic turn that it did.
“I know for a fact that we wouldn’t have met each other,” she said, despite working at the same places as young people growing up on Mount Desert Island.
As adults, they met via the dating site Plenty of Fish.
Just before the car accident that would change Vietti’s life, she had booked a one-way ticket to Guatemala.
“Dreams of travel will always be something I want to do. Justin feels passionately about that as well,” she said.
When reflecting on the last 11 years, Vietti shares her gratitude.
“Life is a good thing and it’s definitely something that needs to be valued and appreciated.”
Despite her positive outlook, there have been times when she struggled.
“I’ve definitely gone through a lot of different stages,” she said. “I did have my anger and grief and frustration and just not understanding.”
“When I first got back from the Shepherd Center, I did not know how I was going to pull myself together to carry on day to day,” she said.
But Vietti made the choice to keep going.
“I get up every day. I take each day as it is and appreciate it for what it is and stay close to the people who are meaningful and important to me.”