SCI Superstar: Tresa Honaker


Teresa “Tresa” Honaker, of Grass Valley, California may have only been paralyzed for 2 1/2 years, but she’s already made history as the first wheelchair aerialist. A lifelong dancer and gymnast who became passionate about aerial performing later in life, she founded the aerial group Air Aligned in 2002 to foster her new love.

An injury however two years ago while doing the very thing she loves the most – experimental aerial work on silk ropes – injured her, taking away her ability to use her legs and forever changing the way she does aerial work (keyword “changing,” and not taking away).

Tresa’s now back at it, and she’s learning how to do what she loves in a brand new way. Read on to see how Tresa is balancing her new life with her life’s passion.

Why she’s fearless

Tresa was born a dancer. She grew up loving dance and went on to study it in college. She started her career in Minnesota, teaching at dance schools around the Twin Cities, and she eventually moved out to California. And in 2002 while residing in Nevada City, California, she founded her aerial group AirAligned, of which she is still the artistic director.

The group is comprised of all kinds of artists, some young, others older, and all have a passion for aerial work. In January 2012 however, while rehearsing an experimental silk rope move she learned of online, she fell 15 ft and landed on her head and breaking her T9 thoracic vertebrae in the process. It’s been a tough road for Tresa, but she’s moving on beautifully.

Since she was an athlete before her injury, Tresa has also been pushing herself incredibly hard in rehab, and she started rehab at SCI Fit in Sacramento within months of her injury (and has been able to stand and crawl with their help). She also goes to Project Walk in Carlsbad, and at home Tresa uses a modified NuStep T4 for cardio.

And on the one year anniversary of her injury, Tresa also had the opportunity to walk again using an exoskeleton from Ekso Bionics, all in an effort to keep her body in the best shape possible in hope of a cure. She will admit however that the cure may not happen while she’s alive, “But at least I’ll be part of the cure,” she says.

What’s next?

And Tresa’s toughness continues. Even though she made the conscious decision to stay involved in dance instead of walking away from it after her injury, Tresa admits she’s had her tough moments, especially watching her dancers rehearse. “It can be really hard. All I want to do is climb.”

But she hasn’t let this feeling prevent her from returning to aerial performing. Earlier this year, Tresa won $3000 from the Challenged Athletes Fund to purchase a Panthera X ultralight wheelchair; a chair weighing only 10 rounds. Her goal is to use the wheelchair for aerial work, which is something she started doing last month at a the Twin Cities Trapeze Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Watch

While wheelchair aerial work in a brand new area of expertise, it’s a beautiful adapted sport. Tresa’s stunning return to the silks is quite something to behold, and we here at SPINALpedia can’t wait to see a how she progresses.

Which other circus acts would you like to see adapted?

– Check out her aerial dance group: Air Aligned

Photo courtesy of Ivy Photography

Watch the videos!

Poignant video montage of Tresa before and after her injury

Tresa trying aerial work again post-injury

Teresa Honaker thanks supporters

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