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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Broadway actress Ali Stroker felt like she was accepting her award for more than just herself when she realized a dream by winning a Tony Sunday night.

Stroker, 31, made history by becoming the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony when she took home the award for best featured actress in a musical for her performance as Ado Annie in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!"

The Broadway trailblazer then delivered an inspiring speech aimed at others with disabilities.

"This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena — you are,'' she said.

Stroker has been paralyzed from the chest down since she was injured in a serious car accident with her brother, Jake, when she was 2 years old.

Ali Stroker, shown performing as Ado Annie in the musical "Oklahoma!" is the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony award. Getty Images

One of her biggest cheerleaders Sunday night was her childhood friend, Sunday TODAY host Willie Geist. The two grew up together in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where Stroker's father, Jim, coached Willie in football and basketball.

"Knowing where Ali started, watching the long journey, and seeing how hard she's worked to get to that big stage on Broadway and become a TONY-NOMINATED actress, well, I can't quite put into words how I felt watching her out there today,'' Willie wrote on Instagram.

Willie included a throwback photo of his high school basketball team coached by Stroker's father. A tiny Ali can be seen in the group picture with her walker.

"We watched them struggle and fight and often fail but always keep going with their father's constant love and encouragement,'' Willie wrote on Twitter. "He told Jake and Ali they were stars. He was right, of course."

Stroker also thanked her "home team" in her speech, expressing her gratitude to "my best friends who have held my hands and pulled me around New York City for years, helping me."

She also gave a tearful thanks to her family, who has been with her every step of the way.

"Thank you for teaching me to use my gifts to help people,'' she said. "I love you, we did it!"