Becoming Whole

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 18, 2021 # Travel, Lifestyle

By Guest Blogger Magi Avila

In Altitude Not Attitude, director and producer Magi Avila followed fun-loving, happy, thrill-seeking Michael Warkentin on yet another trip of a lifetime. Three decades ago, Michael woke up to a new reality after enduring a tragic accident. Determined to make the most out of life, he has set out to experience the world for himself, and show others what's possible. Michael has visited 26 countries despite his unique needs. He is a self-made success and sets an example of how to achieve fulfillment. Among gorgeous European landmarks, the film explores the six phases of recovery that we all go through after facing adversity, with Michael as an excellent testament of recuperation and over-achievement. Michael also shows us how to keep a peak performance mindset easily. Michael is the kind of person who comes along once in a lifetime. He has changed many people's lives for the better, overcoming constant obstacles and teaching us with humor the real value of life. Magi wrote a blog for the Foundation’s website, discussing her time with Michael.

I met Michael Warkentin on the evening of July 1, 2019. I was on my way home, returning from a photoshoot. The photographer, who was driving us back, asked me if I would mind stopping briefly to say hi to a friend of his. He said it would only take 10 minutes and that the man he was meeting was an incredible person. We arrived at Michael’s beautiful 1920’s Long Beach building’s 11th-floor Penthouse. Waiting for us at the door was a Mr. Clean, look-alike man with the sweetest blue eyes I had ever seen. I met Michael, who is a financial advisor.

Michael shared with us that he was leaving soon to go on a trip to Europe. He has traveled to over 26 countries in a wheelchair. His company produces an annual conference in a different city around the world, and Michael always explores the surrounding areas while attending. The photographer said, “I can’t believe you get to travel so much in your condition. You should show clips of your travels on YouTube!” Michael Warkentin was 22 when he became a quadriplegic after a terrible three-story accidental fall that broke his neck.

I work in Hollywood surrounded by such inspiring people, so many who, despite significant life challenges, still created a beautiful life, adapting to a new normal, but reinvented a superhero version of themselves. Meeting Michael has been incredibly reassuring for me. He is the perfect embodiment of self-realization and self-reinvention.

I am still working on developing an upgraded mindset, being extremely vigilant of what I allow in my mind, the music lyrics to which I listen, the people who surround me, the inner voices implanted since early childhood, etc. In order to overthrow my own walls, I had to focus on my peace and growth, on being of service to others, on daily gratitude for the life I get to live, and, most importantly, on making the most out of life. It was clear to me that Michael was a perfect example of mastering all that and much more! I explained to Michael that allowing me to do a documentary about his life. It would have an immense impact not only on people that had just experience a tragedy and going through the six phases of recovery but also on everyone else in the world!

The world needs to be reminded daily of the way he continually keeps himself happy and productive despite the challenges he must overcome daily. I spent around 4 months next to Michael filming our documentary “Altitude Not Attitude.” I remember sharing videos with him about the advances in robotics and the amazing work that the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation does for the community. I eventually was able to understand his words, “I have faith, for sure, but in the meantime, I must make the most of life and not wait.” It makes sense to take charge of the things that are under our control. The most important one, our mind. Just as Michael did by focusing on the most beautiful things in life, such as serving others.

Magi Avila is the director and producer of Altitude Not Attitude. Her most recent work as an actress can be seen in the TV Series My American Family featuring Danny Trejo, streaming now on Amazon Prime. Also, with Bruce Willis in First Kill, in Dog Eat Dog with Nicolas Cage, in A Better Life with Demian Bichir, in the TV Series Training Day with the late Bill Paxton and The Shield with Michael Chiklis. Under her new Kepler 22 Group banner, she teaches her Six Steps Formula to Becoming a Working Actor, and is currently preparing for assignments on both sides of the camera.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.