“I wasn’t supposed to live. They told my parents the cancer was too big.”
Mariah Sepulveda, 19-year-old Bronx, New York native was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, stage 4 cancer, at two months old. Located in her lower spinal cord, the cancer built up to her mid-chest and down to her tailbone. You may know Mariah as the spunky, outgoing girl—oftentimes seen around Marist campus, strutting in her wheelchair with a cool off-the-shoulder shirt, hoop earrings, and her hair styled to a T.
“I make sure that people know that this does not define me,” Mariah said. “It doesn’t hinder my intelligence at all, and I always made sure that I use my wheelchair as more of a statement rather than something that brought me down.”
SPREADING HER INSPIRATION—Mariah has a YouTube account where she posts videos of her completing common tasks like going to work and putting up her Christmas tree, but with a motivational twist. She also has posted an impassioned video of an explanation as to why she uses her wheelchair.Her YouTube name is Mariah Simz with 3,324 subscribers.
Ever since a young age, Mariah has always enjoyed sharing her innate positivity with others. Mariah attended Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, NY, a school for children with physical flaw, before attending Marist. This school has shaped the opportunities that Mariah has been able to receive today—where she was able to start advocating for positivity in the fourth grade.
Mariah was part of a group of students led by The Viscardi Center that spread disability and cancer awareness. The Viscardi Center is a network of non-profit organizations that strive to educate, employ, and empower people of all ages with disabilities. Every student who attended the Henry Viscardi School was asked if they wanted to participate in this movement. Mariah would travel to different schools in her tristate area spreading this awareness. At the end of the presentations, she would always share her social media handles with the audience so that she could gain a following in order to spread confidence and happiness the quickest way possible—through social media.
Her Instagram handle is @mariah_simz and she has 58.2K followers. Mariah posts an array of fashionable photos of herself, adding in some encouraging captions along with some posts. Mariah shares her inspiration and perception of life with heartfelt Instagram captions, one reading, “I continue to feel blessed to be alive, being a survivor shapes how appreciative I am for every breath I take. We are here for a reason. No matter the case, please remember that.”
In another post, she writes, “Set goals, put in the time and dedication, and sit back and watch it come to life.” Mariah also posted a photo of her holding a sign that says, “Be your own kind of beautiful.” Aligning with the posts she shares with her wide following, Mariah hopes to spend some time in the future as a motivational speaker—expanding on the experiences she has already.
The President & CEO of The Viscardi Center and President of the Henry Viscardi School, John D. Kemp, has gotten the opportunity to spend copious amounts of time with Mariah as she was growing into the person she is today. "No one other than Mariah has ever assumed such powerful, positive and passionate leadership in high school governance and disability advocacy!” He elaborates, “Our world - and not just our disability world - will be great because Mariah guided it to be so with her skills."
‘EMBRACING CIRCUMSTANCES’—“I make sure that everyone really embraces their circumstances and that’s something that I advocate for a lot,” Mariah said.
“So there’s certain muscles and nerves within my lower extremities like in my legs and my lower abdomen that I can’t exactly feel all the way or they can’t be utilized,” she explained. “But there are some muscles and nerves that are still alive so that allows me to walk and stuff like that.” Due to this damage, Mariah chooses to use a wheelchair as her means of transportation.
Another opportunity that was exposed to Mariah by the educators at the Henry Viscardi School was the ability to participate in a modeling opportunity through the Runway of Dreams Foundation. Mariah modeled in the 2017 Runway of Dreams Gala Event.
The Runway of Dreams Foundation is a nonprofit that works toward a future of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities. Founded on the basis that clothing is a basic human need, the foundation develops, delivers and supports charitable initiatives to broaden the reach of adaptive clothing and promote the differently-abled community in the fashion industry.
“I fell in love with the mission because it’s all about getting accessible clothing to people with disabilities,” Mariah said. “But not only accessible clothing, it’s actually making sure that people of the culture of disability are being recognized in the fashion industry.”
Mariah’s passion for living out a life of ambition shines through when she describes her experience with the Runway of Dreams Foundation. “It’s like taking everything that everybody says ‘no’ this is not the social norm, ‘no’ this is not reaching the status quo, and we’re just stepping on it. We’re saying you know what, we’re going to define what we want our lives to look like.” Mindy Scheier, the Founder and President of the Runway of Dreams Foundation says, “I’m so thrilled to see trailblazing people like Mariah break down barriers and make our world more inclusive and representative of all.” Scheier worked closely with Mariah while she took part in the Runway of Dreams Gala Event. “She is a true inspiration and with so much ahead of her, I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.”
ENDLESS SUPPORT—Mariah went through chemotherapy from the age of 2 to 8 months old and had surgery to remove the cancer. By the age of 1, she was cancer free. Now, her disability consists of side effects. “I just deal with the repercussions of that every day and I get through it,” Mariah said, with a positive smile. “I was raised around a very supportive family and I feel like support and a little bit of love and appreciation is really all that people need in order to cope and get through things.”
“Every limitation they gave me, I surpassed.” Mariah makes it clear that she wants to continue to defy her odds. She plans to obtain an executive level position and hopefully one day be named in the Fortune 500 list. Mariah wants to be part of an organization that helps people with disabilities and she wants to bring her organization to the top.“I have absolutely no doubt that if I set a goal, I will be able to achieve it.”