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New chair means new moves for dancer

Wheelchair ballroom dancer Olesia Komienko and her instructor, Andy Wong, demonstrate some of their moves in the showroom at Motion Specialties, where Komienko was presented with a brand new chair on Tuesday. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Wheelchair ballroom dancer Olesia Komienko and her instructor, Andy Wong, demonstrate some of their moves in the showroom at Motion Specialties, where Komienko was presented with a brand new chair on Tuesday.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A competitive ballroom dancer will be able to glide and twirl across the hardwood floor as never before thanks to the generosity of a Burnaby company.

But it’s not a new pair of shoes that will allow Olesia Komienko to trip the light even more fantastical. It’s a new wheelchair.

On Tuesday, Motion Specialties—located in Burnaby’s Big Bend industrial area—presented Komienko with a new, lightweight, custom-fit wheelchair to replace her 18-year-old chair that had seen better days and could no longer withstand the rigours of the dance floor.

Komienko was born with cerebral palsy, and hasn’t let her disability hold her back. The 35-year-old native of Russia is the only competitive wheelchair ballroom dancer in British Columbia. She and her instructor Andy Wong have danced at the annual Snowball Classic, the Pro-Am Fiesta and the Grand Ball competitions in Vancouver.

But Komienko’s dilapidated chair limited some of the moves and spins she could make, said Wong, who owns the Grand Ballroom studio in Vancouver. After demonstrating a couple of their routines in Motion Specialties’ showroom, he knows there will be more complex moves they’ll be able to try.

“It’s meant to move and turn,” said Wong of his pupil’s sleek new red chair. “It’s a lot more musical. It’s smooth.”

Komienko’s journey to acquire the chair was anything but. She immigrated to British Columbia with her mother, Tatiana, in 2011, after enduring a lifetime of discrimination and misunderstanding because Russian authorities regarded her cerebral palsy more as a mental illness than a physical disability. She has difficulty speaking and controlling her facial muscles, as well as some of those in her limbs, but her intellect is intact. She’s a published poet and has dabbled in art.

As the Komienkos struggled to settle into their new life, money for a new wheelchair kept slipping down their priority list. The government wouldn’t help, and an attempt at online crowd sourcing fell short. That’s when a neighbour in their Vancouver apartment building rolled in to help.

Larry Relkoff, who’s also in a wheelchair, started advocating for Komienko, calling around to see if he could get her a better chair.

One of those calls was answered by Rick Nori of Centric Health, Motion Specialties’ parent company. Working with specialized wheelchair manufacturer TiLite, they were able to secure a new chair worth $3,000.

“Her story touched our hearts,” said Nori.

And judging by the smile that spread across Komienko’s face as she took a few solo twirls in her new chair, their help touched her’s.

 

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