"In reality, I shouldn't even be here," she told The Huffington Post in June. "So the fact that I still have my body… I may not be able to move it in the way that I want to, but the fact that I'm still in this vessel, still living and still here, talking to you, communicating and sharing all of my experiences and living this moment… I'm just very grateful for that."
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Born in Clovis, New Mexico, Rockwood grew up in the Philippines, Spain, and Guam, thanks to her military family. Her exotic looks -- she's of Thai and German descent -- helped her launch her modeling career when she was just 17, but she soon decided to train as a fitness instructor and martial artist. She moved to Los Angeles to finish art school at age 22; that's where she met actor Dustin Nguyen (of "21 Jump Street" fame) and started acting. The couple eloped on Valentine's Day, 2001, and separated in 2011.
She was traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles with friends on Sept. 4, 2001, when the driver lost control of their car. Rockwood, who was riding in the back seat, was thrown through a window.
"I remembered the car fishtailing violently, before it swung around by the force of the impact, and hit the side of the mountain," she writes on her profile at Model Mayhem. "I was thrown in the back of the drivers seat, and my neck snapped instantly. The car flipped five times and I was thrown out of the window landing 20 feet away. Of the two friends who were with me, one did not survive."
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She had broken her neck and severed her spinal cord; doctors gave her just a 3 percent chance of ever feeling anything below her neck again.
"I'm a C4/C5 quadriplegic, complete," she says in her bio video for the Sundance Channel. Technically, that means she can't move anything from the neck down but, thanks to extensive therapy -- including stem cell treatments in Portugal in 2003 -- she's able to move her arms enough to operate a manual wheelchair. While she doesn't have full use of her hands, she can feed herself, paint, and apply her own makeup.
"After my accident, the thought of modeling didn't even cross my mind," the now-37-year-old told People Magazine. "But what did occur to me was that I had been transported to the realm of the paralyzed for a reason. I realized I had a huge choice to make: to go down the positive path, be an example for others in similar positions and be a voice."
A picture speaks a thousand words, and through her return to modeling she has been able to project that voice loudly and clearly.
"There weren't many models in chairs to make a statement like, 'Hey we are the consumers too!' and 'Who doesn't want to look sexy or fashionable sitting in a wheelchair?'" she told People. "When I was on set for Nordstrom, I felt like I was at 'home' again. It was like throwing a fighter back in the ring to win their belt after a major setback from a recovering injury."
"We worked with Angela a few times over the years. She's just fantastic. Obviously gorgeous," Nordstrom spokesperson Tara Darrow told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. The fashion retailer has been featuring models with disabilities in its catalogs since 1991; Darrow says that they first featured Rockwood in 2008. "For us, it's about reflecting the diverse customer who shops with us, and we think angle does a fantastic job with that."
This most-recent photo shoot is the first one to be featured online at Nordstrom.com, and may be Rockwood's most high-profile campaign yet. She definitely doesn't let her disability rule her life: In addition to working as a model and an actress (she appeared briefly in 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" and "V.I.P" before starring on "Push Girls"), she hosts weekly acting workshops in Los Angeles and is an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a quadriplegic counselor through the Fight 2 Walk Foundation, and spent time as a life coach for Operation Confidence.
Her empowering and inspiring fashion photo shoot was aired as part of the season finale of "Push Girls." (Season Two returns in 2013; reruns of the first season air on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on the Sundance Channel.)
"The photo shoot with Nordstrom has been so amazing," Rockwood said during the show. "It's so important that there are companies out there that see the value of using models with disabilities. I am happy to be a part of it."
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