SAN LORENZO -- Arthur Renowitzky is no stranger to the struggles of immobility. Paralyzed after he was shot in a botched 2007 robbery attempt, the aspiring rapper and activist has for six years relied on a custom-made wheelchair to move about the world, from everyday errands to frequent engagements speaking out against gun violence.
But late Saturday night in Los Angeles, Renowitzky watched as his lifeline was crushed before his eyes, his basic means of mobility dashed by a bus plowing down a narrow street.
"I literally watched my wheelchair get run over," Renowitzky said. "Once I saw that, I knew I would be immobile for some time."
The 26-year-old from San Lorenzo was in Los Angeles to speak at an anti-violence rally at UCLA, and later went to an event on the city's northeast side. As he got out of a friend's SUV and into his wheelchair, a white charter bus came barreling down the residential street, he said.
He threw himself out of the chair and was pinned with his friend against the SUV. While neither was seriously hurt, Renowitzky's wheelchair was crushed beneath the bus.
The driver got out to talk to the men, but they later found the information he gave them was phony, and that the company he claimed to work for said the unmarked bus was not theirs.
Without valid insurance from the bus driver, Renowitzky's wheelchair, worth an estimated $4,500, will have to be covered out-of-pocket, he said. His insurance covers a new chair every five years, meaning a replacement won't come his way until 2017.
"My wheelchair was specifically made for me," he said. "People with spinal-cord injuries know how important it is to fit you exactly. It's like putting on someone else's shoes -- it's not going to feel right."
Friends and family are helping him get around as much as possible, but Renowitzky said his main challenge will be getting to his speaking engagements he goes to as part of his nonprofit foundation, Life Goes On. He has been able to use other chairs in a pinch, but said a borrowed chair is only a short-term solution for the two or three events he commits to each week at schools and juvenile detention facilities.
"When I got my voice back, I never took it for granted. I started speaking out against gun violence," he said. "I've dealt with this before, where I feel like a victim, but at the end of the day, I'm thankful I wasn't in that wheelchair. I can still inspire movement through my foundation to one day live in a more peaceful world. But it's going to take time to come up with the money to buy my chair, and more time to build it."
A portion of donations to his foundation, which support his speaking engagements and organizations seeking a cure for spinal-cord injuries, will fund the construction of a new wheelchair. While he has already received an outpouring of support, he has a long way to go to get up and running on two wheels again.
"It is a blessing in disguise," Renowitzky said. "Now people are able to hear my story and check out my foundation. It was all a plan for me, and I'm dedicating my life to this."
Contact Erin Ivie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a donation toward Renowitzky's new wheelchair or to book him as a speaker, go to lifegoesonproject.org.