By Alexandra Anastasio
The millions of viewers worldwide who tune in each week to watch “The Real Housewives of New York” might think they know Aviva Drescher, the stunning 5’10 blonde, but think again! There is a lot more to this “Real Housewife of NYC” and mother of four than meets the eye. Sophisticated, smart, educated and extremely funny, Drescher may be part of a franchise phenomenon that delivers drama on a weekly basis, but she’s so much more than that. Spend some time with her and you’ll see that Drescher is truly a woman juggling multiple roles with grace and style.
Those who know Drescher know her history and the accident that happened when she was just 6 years old. While upstate at her parent’s country house, she spent the night at a friend’s; what started out as a game of fun in the barn turned into a dangerous and almost deadly accident. In the blink of an eye her foot became tangled in a barn cleaner. Paramedics and loved ones worked tirelessly to free it for more than two hours. After a two-month ordeal in which she almost lost her life, Drescher was finally able to go home. Although she lost her leg at the ankle at the time, her spirit of determination was defined that day; all she wanted was to get back to being a normal child.
“I have always believed life without limbs is limitless,” explains the reality TV star, mother, entrepreneur and author. “It’s always been in my makeup.” While Drescher did everything in her power to make sure she didn’t stand out because of what had happened, things weren’t always so easy. “I still did everything, but it wasn’t as seamless.” Growing up and going through the teenage years is hard enough without having a physical impediment; add one to the mix and it’s even tougher. But at that time – and still to this day – that strong-willed girl wasn’t going to let anything or anyone get in her way. The sustaining mantra in her head: “I am going to be just like everyone else!”
As a result of an awkward amputation, Drescher experienced a lot of abrasions and was at risk for infection throughout those early years. “For me, life did not become really free until I was 26 years old,” she recalls. Twenty years after the accident, she made the decision that would allow her life to have no boundaries; she electively chose to have her leg amputated from below the knee for better function. From that point on, she says, her life has had no limitations.
Helping Others: “The Greatest Gift”
By accepting a role in the spotlight, Drescher has been able to amplify her philosophy of living life to the fullest, embracing all it has to offer and helping others do the same. When she joined “The Real Housewives of NYC,” her ability to help others one on one increased tenfold, she says. “The awareness I provide and hope I give to amputees and their families just being on the show is tremendous.”
“One of the main reasons I agreed to be on the show and allow my family’s life to be on display was so I could help create a more visible platform to raise awareness for amputees, as well as others struggling with any physical impediment or challenge,” Drescher explains. On a daily basis, she says she receives emails, messages and tweets from people with questions about doctors and prosthetists to more personal ones that center around hygiene, dating, wearing high heels, sex, caring for a newborn baby and more as an amputee.
After last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, Drescher received phone calls from two of the hospitals because injured women were asking for her. She visited with half a dozen women and was able to connect them to the charity, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and One Step Ahead, along with her own personal prosthetist to help with their life changing transition. “I was also fortunate to go back to Boston for a second time and present one of the survivors with a running leg as well as attend a running clinic held by the CAF foundation that attracted a lot of the survivors. It was incredible to see such a tragedy where evil did not prevail,” she recalls. Months later, some of the injured were back to running, something she says was truly wonderful to witness.
With the show reaching more than two million viewers, Drescher has found the platform that’s helped her extend her life lessons – and messages of encouragement – to others. She says it’s enabled her to be successful in accomplishing what she set out to do: To help young women on both an emotional and physical level, and give hope to new or discouraged amputees. “The greatest gift is helping and reaching others.”
Fighting Back and Finding Hope
Drescher has also used the limelight to shine a spotlight on those issues often kept in the dark. Having experienced anxiety for a good part of her life, she credits the show to helping her discover a way to fight back – and encourage others to do the same. After her fears were exposed on an episode of “RHNY,” her good friend, Keith Frankel, the man behind Vitaquest International, a manufacturer and distributer of nutraceuticals and nutritional supplements, reached out to her. “Keith gave me some all-natural minerals to try,” she recalls. They calmed down her nervous system so much that she teamed up with him to create and market a product called Vivacalm, an all-natural mineral-based powder that comes in stick packs.
“I was blown away by how these minerals helped me, and I want all anxiety sufferers to have this safe, natural product at their fingertips,” Drescher explains. It’s so safe, in fact, that even expecting mothers can take the product safely, she says. Vivacalm will be sold exclusively in GNC stores this March through May; after that it will be sold in stores worldwide.
For the Drescher family, 2014 is the beginning of many wonderful projects. In addition to Vivacalm, Drescher’s memoir, “Leggy Blonde,” will be released on February 25. The book chronicles what she describes as a “wackadoo” childhood and all the crazy, as well as blessed, events that have happened in her life thus far. The book covers not only her early trauma and subsequent triumph, but addiction, divorce, blended families, life as a reality TV star and more. “It’s tear jerking and funny and kooky, and the takeaway is that no one’s life is perfect,” Drescher explains.
While it might be said that the TV show opened the door for many of her opportunities, Drescher credits her husband Reid with getting the ball rolling on the book. Not believing she had enough to fill a book, nor that her life was interesting, the soon-to-be author wasn’t completely on board when her husband brought her down to the publisher for their first meeting.
“After hearing some of the stories about my life, the Simon and Schuster executives were falling off their chairs,” exclaims Drescher. “It wasn’t until I started writing and looking at things objectively that I realized how complicated my life had been at times and how I just plowed through it.” Putting the words on paper was a cathartic experience, she recalls, one she shared with her husband every step of the way. Not only is Reid her number one fan, so are her children, she adds. “My 6 year old said, “Mommy, you wrote a whole book?”
It’s evident when talking to this multi-dimensional woman that with all the wonderful things going on in her life, the most important – and the one that takes precedence over everything – is family. Listening to her speak about them, it’s obvious they are the center of her world. The passion she has for helping others begins at home, she says. It’s about using everything as a teachable moment for her children. “My children will often come with me to charitable events or mentoring sessions, and I hope they’ll take these life lessons and pay them forward as they grow older.”
In addition, it’s important to her that her children recognize the importance of accepting others no matter what their differences. From a young age, the Drescher family has impressed upon their children that everyone’s individuality is what makes them special. It’s why Drescher refers to her leg as her “special leg” when talking to her kids.
“Children learn by example and one of the life lessons I try to teach them is about conflict. Whether they see an episode of the show or conflict of any sort, I want them to understand that while such situations exist, people resolve their issues and move on,” she says. “Honesty and integrity in our home is extremely important; we teach them to give back.”
Living Life to the Fullest
Living life with the belief that “as long as you’re breathing, there’s happiness,” this passionate woman makes it one of her many missions to reflect on the beauty all around her. “I find that the most beautiful people are the ones who are confident and secure in their belief system and their moral values, like my husband,” says Drescher. “It’s having the ability to be humble and self-reflective, to know you made mistakes and to take accountability for them.” She admires those like Reid who don’t hedge and have their own sense of what’s right and wrong. While she doesn’t think she’s there just yet, she’d like to be, and knows that as she’s getting older she will be. “I still question myself, especially raising four children, and hope I am doing everything right. Reid is more confident.
“I surround myself with people who exude the qualities I find most attractive,” Drescher explains. By doing so, she hopes to continue to inspire and teach what beauty is truly about; that big or small, you can do whatever you set your mind to and feel great about yourself. The thought that beauty is perfection is the misnomer … it’s a feeling, not an objective measure, she explains.
“Physical beauty has nothing to do with your shell,” says Drescher. “It’s the wise and intelligent who have evolved through life’s experiences who truly are beautiful.”
One Minute with Aviva
One item you can’t live without? Willa lip balm … it’s chemical free!
Must-have beauty product? Grapeseed oil
Favorite vacation spot? Wherever my family is
Favorite “date night” spot? Bills Food and Drink or The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges
Favorite comfort food? Pureed vegetable soup
Favorite designer? Jes Wade and the late Alexander McQueen
Favorite NYC hidden gem? Two amazing, diverse restaurants: al BUSTAN (Lebanese) and Dawat (Indian)
One NYC “winter must”? Ice-skating in Rockefeller Center
Someone you’d love to meet or see again, dead or alive? My mom … I had so much more to learn from her.
Greatest accomplishment to date? My children
Drescher’s Favorite Charities
Through her work with various charities, Drescher is raising awareness and committing herself to causes where there’s a personal connection. Seven years ago she became involved with One Step Ahead (where she is now on the board), Challenged Athletes Foundation, Cancer Schmancer and Trash Cancer, founded by her husband’s first cousin Fran Drescher. She also works closely with Live4Life, started by a close friend who was diagnosed with melanoma at a young age, and SoGaySoWhat, where she serves as the national spokesperson.
One Step Ahead Foundation – Dedicated to giving children with physical disabilities positive experiences through sports to build confidence, courage, and friendship. The foundation focuses on children with limb loss and provides them with the means to participate in various athletics. OneStepAheadFoundation.wordpress.com
Challenged Athletes Foundation – Provides opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. ChallengedAthletes.org
Cancer Schmancer – Founded by actress Fran Drescher, this group’s mission is to shift the nation’s focus from just searching for a cure to prevention and early detection of cancer in order to save lives. CancerSchmancer.org
Trash Cancer – Teaches others how to live a less toxic, healthier and preventative lifestyle. TrashCancer.org
Live4Life – A non-profit organization whose mission is to help those affected by melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Live4Life.org
SoGaySoWhat – Spreading the message of love, acceptance, support and respect for the LGBTQ community. ShineOutMusicFestival.com/SoGaySoWhat