man dancing in wheelchair


ABC7: Humboldt Park man driven by dance to walk again

Posted By Hosea Sanders & Marissa N. Isang


ABC 7 Chicago


CHICAGO (WLS) -- A combination of perseverance and passion for dance is the driving force behind the recovery of a Humboldt Park man.

Robby Williams has had a love of dance and theater since he was in high school.

"I think one of the things I love about dance is the connection you make with other dancers. You learn another language, communicate without using words," Williams said.

The stage is home. Dance even what led him to his beautiful wife while dancing with the Tango 21 Dance Theater.

But his life changed in June 2018.



"Last year, leading up to a performance actually, I was dropping some friends off and someone opened fire on my car. So one of the bullets passed through my L-2 vertebra and shattered my vertebra and shut down my function from T-12 down," he said.

Williams' wife, Jennifer Ruggieri, got the call, jumped into her car and raced to the hospital, not knowing anything. Life has been tumultuous ever since, she said.

"Ups and downs constantly over the last year, year and a half-ish. Really, really low lows and really good highs, too, but every day is different," Ruggieri said.

A different day but the same joy remained. Robby found an inclusive way to continue his passion by dancing with Momenta.

"Partially the encouragement of my physical therapist after watching me and working with me we they were like, 'You seem to adapt pretty well to dance. You seem to move better in ways that traditional physical therapy isn't as effective,'" he said. "They encouraged me to stay in touch with them but also keep dancing as much as I can. So Momenta is an absolutely fantastic place to do that."

Robby's dedication and infectious smile has become an inspiration to everyone he encounters.

"I think if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be doing this as passionately," said Julia Cox, another Momenta dancer. "Surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Other people with disabilities or not."

Ruggieri said that's how he's always been.

"He has this infectious and joyful personality, he has a smile that will light up a room and a laugh that will spread. Everyone he meets loves him," she said.

Now he is making strides. He is taking part in a research project at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab on a long leg brace called the C-brace 2. It's new technology that could slowly help Robby get back on his feet.

"The research is what we're trying to figure out, if this does help people get back to the things they want to do quicker, sooner, more efficiently. So we're hoping this does help facilitate that process," said Matt Giffhorn, a research physical therapist at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.