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Cienna Ditri: Embracing life, travel and fashion, with grace and confidence despite her disability

A young woman and her brown dog are enjoying a sunny day outdoors, sitting on a white blanket spread over lush green grass. The woman, sporting blonde, shoulder-length hair with glasses, is dressed in a summery, white cropped top and blue striped skirt. She's smiling gently at the camera. The dog is looking content with its tongue out has a golden-rust color. They both seem to be relishing a perfect day in the park.

“My happiness isn’t dependent on my health. I have known for most of my life that being “sick” or disabled doesn’t make me, my life, my happiness, or anything about me any less. I can live a beautiful and fulfilling life anywhere and in any way that me and my body can. I am not suffering from my conditions or trying to overcome them. I am living with them. I can’t change what happens to me, but I can change how I react to it.”

~Cienna Ditri

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Cienna radiates a deep passion for life despite living with multiple chronic illnesses. Her exuberant personality allows her to look beyond her illness and embrace adventure, advocate for disability rights and indulge in her passion for travel and fashion.

Growing up in Michigan, Cienna’s childhood was filled with outdoor activities—golfing, skiing and boating on the lake during the summer months. She developed a deep connection with nature and the ocean, which continues to be her favorite place to this day. Cienna’s love for fashion also blossomed early, shaping her unique sense of style and creativity. 

She loves to travel and although it is often accompanied by damaged suitcases and stressors like inconsiderate flight attendants, this in no way dulls her travel enthusiasm. She confessed, “I love to travel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I once did a social media post starting with, I love to travel but an airline broke my wheelchair,” she chuckled, “and somebody commented, are you sure you know what I love to travel means?” Undeterred, this remains a very important aspect of her life and as she travels in the U.S. and abroad, what constitutes a luxury vacation for her is accessibility.  “This is the most important thing,” she said. “Then, the experience of being outdoors and at one with nature, getting to share enjoyable moments in beautiful places with the people I love and care about is luxury. But simply being at the ocean is absolute luxury!”  

She is a frequent traveller—last year she travelled at least once per month. Although most of her travels were for medical reasons, she said, “That doesn’t mean that I can’t make it an amazing travel experience.” And she did, often with her mom. 

With travel being such an important part of her life, Cienna found ways to make the process less frustrating. She shares insights into what works for her. It may also work for you.

WHEELCHAIR

When you arrive at the airport, if you can, have someone take a video showing that your wheelchair was rolling along perfectly intact. Make sure it is time and date stamped. You might need this as proof if your wheelchair is broken upon arrival at your destination.

If your wheelchair is damaged in any way on arrival, do not leave the airport until you have filed a report. If you do leave without notifying them, the authorities may say it was broken elsewhere. 

SUITCASE

Traveling solo can present challenges when trying to navigate a wheelchair and suitcase simultaneously at the airport. Cienna has found a solution by using a four-swivel wheel soft spinner suitcase. She places the suitcase behind her wheelchair and attaches a luggage strap from the wheelchair’s bar to the suitcase handle, allowing it to roll smoothly behind her. This setup grants her additional independence. 

TSA PRECHECK

TSA PreCheck can be beneficial especially for solo travelers residing in the U.S. as it expedites the screening process significantly. “It makes your life so much easier,” Cienna said. While there is an application fee for the TSA PreCheck, the convenience it offers is well worth the cost once approved. Swab and go!

SCALE

Take a small scale with you to avoid surprise overweight fees. “I am a chronic over packer so I need to know that my suitcase doesn’t weigh too much,” and she revealed, “when I get to my destination, I always go shopping so having the scale is very useful.”

Through social media, Cienna continues to empower and motivate. By candidly discussing her chronic health issues and adventures in travel, adorned in outfits that reflect her distinctive fashion sense, she has cultivated a supportive network that works to dispel misunderstandings surrounding disabilities. Cienna disclosed, “Fashion is fun. It’s a way to express on the outside who you are on the inside. It’s a joyful thing to me and I know fashion and disability can definitely coexist.” Whether she’s having a good day or not, her sense of style still shines through. “It’s so important to have that representation. I didn’t see anybody like me on TV or in the media unless it was an advertisement raising money for a children’s hospital. I didn’t see that the sick kids grew up, that they played soccer, that they had fun, even though they’re sick.” Cienna continues, “If a disabled child wants to be a teacher, they should see somebody who’s disabled being a teacher because if you can see it, you can dream it. How will you think you can be part of society if you don’t see others like you being part of society?” Trying to be that person who dresses up regardless of how sick she feels today and shares about her condition in an attempt to raise awareness exposes her to many negative comments with “well you don’t look sick” being the most prevalent criticism. But Cienna continues to advocate. She’s worked with the Paralyzed Veterans Association. She partners with airlines for disability awareness and is the president of the Periodic Paralysis Association. Every speech she gives and every social media post is aimed at sensitizing the public with the hope of shifting people’s perspective about disabilities and chronic illnesses. 

PLACES CIENNA LOVES TO VISIT

Scottsdale, Arizona. It is beautiful, so too is Sedona. “People often talk about this feeling you get when you’re there . . . it’s a very calming place,” she declared.

Puerto Rico. “I went there for my birthday and loved it.” Cienna and her family enjoyed the amazing weather, she was able to walk quite easily with her arm crutches and she finally learned how to adaptive surf. Puerto Rico will always have a special place in her heart. 

Traverse City in Michigan. “It is really cool. They have off road wheelchairs so you can go hiking. It was the first time I got to go hiking in years. It was amazing being able to go out there and just the accessibility of it all, it left a big impact on me.” There are various hiking trails to explore. Most beaches were equipped with beach wheelchairs and Moby mats, allowing easy access to the sand. It was a pleasant experience, and Cienna didn’t have to worry about her ability to participate in an activity. If she wanted to do something there, she could. 

From traversing the deserts of Arizona to adaptive surfing in Puerto Rico, Cienna’s wanderlust knows no bounds. Her love for travel, advocacy for disability rights and passion for fashion paint a portrait of a remarkable individual whose spirit shines bright despite life’s challenges. With her two service dogs, supportive family, friends and social media network, her story encapsulates the essence of living life to the fullest, embracing challenges with grace, and finding joy in the journey, no matter the circumstances. In Cienna’s world, every day is a new adventure waiting to be embraced and every setback is an opportunity to inspire and make a difference. 

Visit her on Instagram @chronicallypersevering 
 
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