Tamara Mena was paralyzed in a car accident in late 2005 and although it changed her life, she remained dedicated to achieving her dreams. A Wings for Life World Run ambassador since the first event in 2014, Mena is now developing a career as a TV host, with several projects currently airing on LATV. She’s working to break down stereotypes associated with people in wheelchairs and educating people about living with a spinal cord injury. A true role model for so many, Mena will be in Santa Clarita for her third World Run this year – join her team.
[Scroll down for video after the Q&A. Photo above by Kristine R. Surla.]
How did you get involved with LATV?
We reached out to them about this idea that I had been thinking about for a couple of years. A friend of mine, Cosme Reyes, works at LATV, so we approached them with the idea of me hosting a show called Beauty on Wheels. They liked it so we started shooting for it, and I co-produce it with Cosme. He had seen me on TV doing an interview for Wings for Life World Run two years ago. He contacted me and helped me do more interviews about the run. I feel that I’m getting to where I am thanks in part to him believing in my talent and in the project.
What does the show cover?
It’s about beauty and fashion. We give tips for everybody on what’s trending this season. It’s not about my wheelchair, but it’s there. That’s what I like about it — I’m sharing stuff I like with everybody, and it also breaks some stereotypes in a subtle way.
Tell us about your latest hosting project with LATV.
People know I want to keep growing as a host, not just do beauty and fashion alone. So I was approached by one of the producers who said that I was their inspiration to do their annual athlete special on adaptive athletes, and they wanted me to host and be the connective tissue to all these stories. We did an interview with a runner who is going blind, an interview with a girl with Spina Bifida who does Spartan Races, and little kids who are wheelchair skating. I’m excited about the interview with [World Run ambassador] Jesse Billauer, it’s really good. It makes me feel so awesome that I was some sort of inspiration for change. (Keep an eye on Tamara’s site for more info about the show.)
You’re also still modeling, right?
I have a show coming up in Milan for fashion week there. Modeling is not my focus, I moved to L.A. mostly to host, but it’s still something I believe in. I think the industry isn’t fully ready for models of different abilities or in wheelchairs to really be incorporated in big campaigns. I’ve had situations where I was flat-out rejected because the person knew I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t even send my stuff out to them to look over. It gets to me sometimes when I’m not even given a chance.
I’m starting a campaign called “See Me for My Talent” (read Tamara’s blog post about it here). There are so many people who are talented but people pre-judge them because of what they see on the outside. I’m just encouraging people to see our talent and hire us.
Photo above: Tamara ran last year with her boyfriend Chris, who is now her fiancé (they got engaged on TV show "Que Noche" in December 2015). This year she'll be joined by Chris and her loving mom, who is her biggest supporter!
How did you get involved with Wings for Life World Run?
Wings for Life needed someone to talk to the Spanish media, and I have to give a shout-out to Jesse, he recommended me. Wings for Life World Run came to me and I really saw the vision. I saw how big this was going to be, and I had to be part of something this awesome and have the responsibility to share it with Spanish-speaking people.
I want people to know more about spinal cord injury. Of course life goes on, of course there are all these positive stories of athletes who live with different abilities, but I think it’s so important that people take part in this cause and that we find a cure. I live with chronic pain, and some days are just so tough. I don’t want to glamorize life in a wheelchair; of course we all push forward but it’s tough and I want people to understand that.
There’s this phrase in Spanish that I love, "Hoy por tí. Mañana por mí," which translates to “Today for me, tomorrow for you.” You never know, you could be running this year for me and next year this cause could be for you or one of your loved ones. Nobody’s exempt from this and I really hope it’s not just about the fun run, but also about hoping to find a cure because it’s not easy sustaining a life with a spinal cord injury.
What is the experience like at a World Run?
The experience is awesome, the energy, the vibe — it’s something I would not want to miss. I think it really clicks with people. I would encourage any wheelers out there who are thinking about doing it to just go. It doesn’t matter how far you go, whether you’re in shape or not. Just be a part of it; all the other runners connect with us, they really realize that they’re running for us. I’ve had people say incredible things, and I just want to thank everyone who’s there.