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Inspirational Woman Michela Alioto-Pier

By Stephanie Shkolnik

Think you've got it hard trying to take care of a family, raise children and manage a career all at the same time?  Try doing it with a major disability.

I recently had the honor of meeting Fabulously 40's first Inspirational Woman, San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. Alioto-Pier has a family with three children and a very successful career in the demanding arena of public service. She has accomplished a great deal professionally, having worked for presidential candidates, served on a president's council, and been elected to public office.

She has also been paralyzed from the waist down since the age of 13. Her story is both motivational and inspirational. It also proves, as she says, that age is just a number, but one that provides the experience necessary to achieve your goals.

In 1981, Alioto-Pier broke her back in a ski lift accident. Upon learning that she would never walk again, she made a decision never to let her disability get in the way. Determined to make a difference by speaking for the youth and the disabled, she entered the world of politics at a very young age.  

At 17, Alioto-Pier was appointed by President Reagan to the President's National Council Disabilities Advisory Board. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Littlerock, Arkansas to work for the Clinton-Gore campaign, aiding Al Gore. Changing gears, she focused on public service and quickly gained momentum in politics, soon moving to Washington, D.C.  

Today, Alioto-Pier represents San Francisco's District 2, which includes the Marina and Pacific Heights neighborhoods. She establishes city policies and finds solutions for her constituents' problems. Her current passion is creating jobs for the unemployed.  

Despite representing an entire district in San Francisco, Alioto-Pier still finds time to work out on a regular basis. (No more "I'm too busy" excuses, ladies!) She is the mother of three wonderful children, Nicholas, Giovanna and Valentina, and both she and her husband work full-time. Nevertheless, their motto is "family first," a lesson she learned while working for Al Gore's campaign. When any of her children need her - whether at a teacher's meeting or sporting event - they have her unwavering support.

With all she has accomplished, Alioto-Pier is certainly an inspiration to others with disabilities. But she also hopes to set an example for the parents of children with disabilities. What does she advise? "If a child can propel themselves, let them," she urges.  "It may be hard to watch your children learn how to take care of themselves and push themselves, but it's part of growing up and becoming strong."

As an accomplished Fabulously 40 woman, Alioto-Pier has strong opinions about careers after 40. What does she think about starting a business at that point in life?  

"It's never too late!" she insists. "Look at Robert Mondavi. He started his winery from scratch at the age of 55. He was living in a shack at the time and went on to build one of the most famous wineries in the world. You're never too old to begin something new."

What about changing careers after 40?

"A girlfriend of mine got accepted to medical school late in her late 20's," she recalls. "She debated whether or not to attend, knowing that she would be well into her 30's by the time she finished her residency. Her mother told her, 'Go! You're going to be 40 either way, so you might as well be a doctor at 40.'

"Her mom was right—age is all in your mind. You can make yourself a lot older than you really are, or you can value your experiences and bring them to life. I don't think I could have done 10 years ago what I'm doing now. But if you put barriers on yourself you'll never know what you can do."  

Michela Alioto-Pier is an inspiration to women of all ages. At Fabulously 40, this power woman has been through it all and managed to move mountains and make a difference. You can make a difference too!


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