by Melanie Dunn, ACF Manager
Have you ever spoken to or met a person that makes you feel calm and makes you think on a deeper level and realize that your problems are nothing, because this amazing person has overcome so many obstacles that you should be grateful to be breathing! Let me introduce you to our amazing”friend of the week” Faith Tenerual. Faith has been a follower of the Aimee Copeland Foundation since 2012! During these last 7 years, she has been through her own journey that I am honored to share with you.
When Faith was a baby, she was a healthy active girl who walked and played with her brother like a normal child. She and her brother were in foster care and sent to one home, where the mother threw her at the age of 3, into the bathtub and crushed her spine from T-11, paralyzing Faith from the waste down. Luckily, she doesn’t really remember much about the ordeal and was adopted by kind, loving parents.
Her father was a wheelchair and Lift engineer. Faith has said that she had a strong Father, his name was Tsam, he taught her that she could do anything that she put her mind to! He worked with many people with disabilities daily and was well known in the community as the man that could fix your wheelchairs, scooters, van lifts, anything to help someone who needed help, many times he would not accept money from those whom he knew did not have the money to pay for his services. One day he was approached by a good friend, and client Gus to create, a hand propelled bicycle. Tsam designed and built the first, hand propelled bicycle! He took the seat out of Gus’s car and attached two wheels to the back the size of wheelchair wheels and one in the front that was larger. Tsam engineered the handheld gears and welded the frame and the back wheels were held together by a large bolt! Once completed, Gus was thrilled with the bike was introduced to the small company Brike and it was eventually mass produced by Freedom Ryder. Once the Bike had been produced, a man by the name of Bob Whelan wanted to ride it across country to raise awareness. Tsam and Faith’s brother in law and nephews also went along for half of the journey. Faith still has the original bike today, she received after Gus passed away and she will treasure it always. She calls her father a pioneer who never got the credit he was due, for helping to change the face of wheelchair bicycle riding, let alone racing!
When Faith started school, she had a lot of friends and all the kids wanted to push her wheelchair and it was fun! One day, her Father said to her that “she had earned the right to push her own wheelchair and he didn’t want to see anyone pushing her again”! Faith took that to heart and has lived by those words of encouragement that she received at such a young age, and they have pushed her life going forward.
Faith grew up and married a man who had Traumatic Brain Injury. They were married for 11 years. She told me that being married to him was wonderful at times but at times you didn’t know what was going to happen. She started writing her book, which she has since published, as “a guide for those who are caregivers, family members, or spouses of those with TBI, as what signs to look for when things are going to change”! Near the end of her marriage, Faith was diagnosed with Uterine Cancer. She and her husband had wanted to start a family and had not been able to conceive, and then received the news that it would never be possible. God did bring a baby into her life by way of her best friends’ child. The month Faith was diagnosed and went through Cancer treatments and surgery to remove her uterus, her best friend announced she was pregnant. When Faith was well enough, she began watching the baby at 6 months old and has loved being part of the child’s life. Also, the neighborhood children would always stop and hug Faith as they were going up and down the street if she was outside. She just has a heart full of love to give, unfortunately not to her own child, but to so many others.
Their marriage eventually ended and when no person expects to be, 2 weeks later, Faith was sexually assaulted in her own home by a violent attacker who left her there hurt and mentally and physically broken! It is just infuriating, the thought of someone so dear being treated so violently! Her ordeal was all over the news and the internet and Faith felt completely violated and did not know which direction to go. She moved 15 times in order to hide from her attacker, find her new direction and shed her old self, the defeated woman that she had become. During this entire time, she kept writing her book. Faith does speak out about Rape, and other Sexual Assault’s within marriage, date rape, and violent rape by unknown assailants. She feels that the harrowing ordeal is part of her story to help other’s with disabilities and those who are able bodied to understand that no means no, all the time! And to bring awareness to the frequency with which disabled people are assaulted in many different ways, because the perception is that we are weaker, or we don’t know what is happening anyway! Faith definitely speaks at length about this subject in her book, Faith, as well as when doing public speaking.
She has an amazing outlook on life. She feels that every obstacle from the moment that she became paralyzed has been guided by God’s hand to help someone else overcome their own obstacles!
Faith is so vibrant and has taken life by the reigns. In addition to completing her book, Faith has gotten involved in the world of dance! You might ask, how does she dance in a wheelchair? l am here to tell you; this amazing woman sets her mind to something and she accomplishes it! Faith is a certified instructor in UJam and Zumba! She set out to learn how to do Zumba as exercise because she said, “being a girl with fluff, that might not change, but at least I would be healthier”. She took all the classes she could take and then decided to pursue her certifications, she figured she had all the moves down and she could teach a class just as easily as take a class.
She also began dancing at events, with instructors from Calfit Zumba as well as Calfit Ujam and the 100’s Unit, at a State Fair, a Sacramento Kings game, and a Sacramento Republic Soccer game. Faith also has danced Zumba and Ujam demos for other instructors in public places like malls to bring awareness to the wonderful world of dance as exercise! Faith says that getting out there and dancing not only helps her, she wants to inspire not just the disabled but those able-bodied people to realize that people in wheelchairs are not helpless human beings, “we are not less than”!
Faith’s entire life has been and continues to be focused on how she will make something with what God has given her. Now that her book has been published, Faith has a vision for the next move to help people in need. She told me that she saw the show “My 600 lb Life” and it sparked something in her. She realized that there are people out there that are “embarrassed to go to a gym, who are in chairs and don’t think they can do anything at a gym, shut-ins, people who have given up, people who have gained so much weight that they are confined to their beds, the elderly or just don’t have the self-confidence to just move their bodies”.
Faith’s new project is called Wyillocity (will o` city). This is a YouTube Channel for people to tune into that will have all certified Zumba and Ujam instructors, including Faith! All of the instructors will be in chairs, not necessarily wheelchairs, but will be seated. Her philosophy is simple, she cares about all of the people she will be happening, “gyms care about receiving their monthly dues and could care less if their members come in and work out at all”. Faith said it will be her goal to make sure that Wyillocity is a Nationwide, well known channel and she wants to be able to take time to go to members homes and work out with them and broadcast those sessions to encourage other members and grow viewership exponentially. The launch of Wyillocity will be coming soon! Faith is in the process of hiring a photographer to film the dance segments. She has all of her certified instructors and formats ready to go and is ready to launch a revolution in the world of dance! She has her first guest dancer! Her friend Rebecca, who has Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a scooter due to a car accident. Faith is very, very excited to see how her next business venture can make a difference in the lives of all of those of all abilities! We will post an update as soon as Wyillocity is up and running!! Faith’s philosophy behind her exercise demos and everything Wyillocity will offer: “If you work out, you did that, you own that, I’ll just show you the steps”!
“My life is an encircling of those I can learn from. Those I can help. And those who inspire me to make things better, so others don’t have to struggle. I don’t not own credit for those who inspired me to get here, I own credit only for the follow through on my own dreams” Faith Tenerual
What an amazing woman Faith is. She has overcome such heartache, trauma and misery and has such a positive attitude to want to help people find their best selves! Her book can be purchased on www.lulu.com and Faith is written under the name Lafwa S. Espero. It is the complete story of her successful journey from an abusive childhood to a joyfully, gracious and grateful heart for others that she has today! Keep dancing Faith! We at the Aimee Copeland Foundation thank you for your support and wish you much continued success!