ORANGE, Calif. — Stephanie Palazola shocked her family on Monday morning when she woke up with an elastic neck that can stretch past the tip of her right shoulder. After multiple tests, doctors confirmed that Palazola’s newfound ability is the result of consistently sitting in the wheelchair-accessible aisles of movie theaters and concert venues.
“After breaking my neck so many times trying to see a movie on the big screen or get a glimpse of something other than Post Malone’s shoe, I guess my body finally adapted,” Palazola said during a Zoom interview. “Now I can bend as much as I want and see things from any angle.”
Palazola is a lifelong moviegoer, seeing films at both independent cinemas and multiplexes on a weekly basis. She also goes to an average of five concerts a year, her favorite genres being indie pop and rap. Since she has spinal muscular atrophy, she uses a power wheelchair and has a limited range of motion. She says that almost every theater and venue she’s been to over the years places the wheelchair-accessible seats in the front row, just feet away from the screen or stage.
“When I saw ‘Jojo Rabbit’ a couple of years ago, the only reserved wheelchair seat in the theater was just inches from the exit sign. I had to twist my neck exorcist-style just to see that Scarlett Johansson was in the movie,” she said.
Discussing Palazola’s transformation, her mother Beatriz said that her daughter’s elastic capabilities are quite remarkable. “She’s now a human rearview mirror. She’s able to spot our labradoodle from the kitchen table if he’s about to run outside to the front yard.”
Ron Simpson, the manager of the Regal theater that Palazola regularly visits, said the placement of their accessible seating is very strategic.
“If we hadn’t forced wheelchair users to sit in the most uncomfortable spaces imaginable, then Stephanie would have never turned into a real-life Elastigirl from ‘The Incredibles,’” Simpson said.
Palazola is excited to see “The Matrix: Resurrections” soon and is no longer worried about where she has to sit.
“Maybe I’ll curve my head accordingly anytime Neo is in the air during the action scenes,” she said. “It sounds rad!”