Tamara Mena: Don’t call me “disabled model”

If adversity is the building blocks for success, then Tamara Mena has built a village. To overcome the type of adversity that Mena has come across, one needs an exuberant amount of drive.

Mena, who lost the ability to walk at age 19, after an automobile accident, suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed mid-chest down, leaving her bound to a wheelchair and loss the ability to talk temporarily. She and her boyfriend were on a taxi when the accident occurred.  He did not survive. She describes the experience as excruciating. “Losing him was worse than to lose my ability to walk… without a doubt there is no comparison.”

Despite this life-changing experience, she sees herself as a survivor not a victim.

She was born in León Guanajuato, México, and moved to Modesto, California, at the age 13. She gives credit to the way she handles adversity to her upbringing and most of all, to her mother, “She’s been a huge support and has always believed in me, she has a great example to me.” Mena said.

After her accident and regaining the ability to speak, she decided to go back to school.  She graduated with a major in communications receiving top honors from California State University Stanislaus. Before the accident, she had set her sights in studying for international business. Mena explains the change in the field of study, “I definitely took a different route, I just wanted to do something I felt passionate about.”

Never losing sight of her goals, Mena continues to work to accomplish anything she sets herself to do. She’s now a motivational speaker, ambassador to various organizations and a mentor. She’s the founder of Young Women’s Peer Support, where she mentors other young women with spinal cord injuries at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.


Did I also mentioned she models? She first started to model before her accident and continues to do so. Mena has modeled internationally. Her first breakthrough modeling gig was with Modelle & Rotelle in Rome, Italy. She was the only U.S. and first Latina representative at the show.

“I don’t let the situation define me. Sure there are plenty of things I can’t do, but there other things I can, like modeling. It’s something I don’t think I would’ve been able to do because of my height.” Mena said.


To add to her ongoing efforts to promote awareness she most recently modeled during New York’s Fashion Week 2015. Working with the Vertical Foundation, she walked the runway with fellow peers with different physical disabilities in the FTL Moda 2015 runway show to raise money to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. She was the only model selected from the U.S. and the only Latina, the rest of the wheelchair models came from Europe.

She says her experience modeling at the show gives her a sense of pride, “I’m just so grateful to have been there, I never stopped believing in myself and fighting for my dreams and it was just a huge sense of accomplishment.”

Mena also competed on Nuestra Belleza Latina 2013, a television reality show/beauty pageant. She says, while she wowed the judges and the audience, she felt the organization wasn’t ready for a representative like herself. She says there were a few instances where she felt like the organization didn’t make an effort to include her for some activities. “I don’t need to be given special treatment, I was hoping they would be open to including me. It’s all about inclusion.” Mena said.


Regardless of whether people are ready to embrace diversity, she says her commitment to break barriers is a continuous effort.

Now, she focuses on working on meaningful projects and events with a greater purpose. She represents organizations, and currently acts as an ambassador for Ekso Bionics and Red Bull’s Wings for Life Foundation.

Mena will be running for Red Bull’s Wings for Life Foundation on May 3rd in Santa Clarita, California to raise funds to help people with spinal cord injuries.