I Fell Six Stories—And I'm Still Dancing

I grew up a dancer and actress from Mississippi. Ever since I was a kid, my dream was to be a performer. I grew up striving to do everything I possibly could to be the best I could be. Especially at dance. I loved dance. It was a language I understood.

In 2002, I enrolled in the theater and dance department at the University of Southern Mississippi. During my years there, I worked my butt off trying to learn and grow into the performer I so desperately wanted to become. I would spend hours practicing in the studio. My body was in peak physical condition.

After graduation, I had several internships and well-paying jobs that allowed me to save money. When 2008 rolled around, my time had arrived. I packed my bags and moved to New York, Harlem to be exact. It was time to make my dreams a reality.

Everything was going just the way I'd hoped. I was taking dance classes and auditioning for Broadway shows and companies—In the Heights and Pilobolus were the real big ones. I even found a job as a personal trainer to help support my dreams. Life was perfect.

Then, on August 30, 2008, my lifelong dream was interrupted. I fell six stories from the roof of my apartment building. My injuries were severe, and my prognosis for survival was very slim. While in the hospital, I overheard doctors speculating that if I did make it, I may never walk again, let alone dance. That just wasn't the way I wanted my story to end. I had worked too hard to let my dreams come to a halt. I remember when I overheard the doctors talking that my immediate thought was, "Nope, just you wait."

I was in the hospital for eight months. During that time, I was in some intense physical therapy. I had to relearn everything, and I mean everything. All my muscles had atrophied, and regaining them was not going to be an easy task. I had to relearn how to hold a spoon, how to brush my teeth, how to put a T-shirt on.

Learning how to walk again was a huge struggle. Just lifting up my foot took about an hour. It didn't matter though; I was determined to be the dancer that I once was. So, just like a dancer, I worked hard and practiced. Over time, one step turned into two steps. Two steps eventually turned into three, then four, and so on. Then one day I was able to walk the length of the hallway and back. Triumph! I might have entered the hospital in a wheelchair, but when I finally was discharged, I walked out of there on my own two feet. Granted, I had some assistance and was a bit wobbly, but I walked out of there.

Believe it or not, almost a month after being discharged, I was asked to perform in a dance concert entitled Tunes, Tutus, and Turning Wheels. It incorporated disabled and able-bodied dancers. I wasn't able to do much, but I was dancing and performing. Being on that stage gave me a tremendous feeling of hope for the future.

I've performed a few more times since then, nothing major, but enough for me to only want more. I'm no longer in physical therapy daily, however, I do have to go in from time to time. The best way I can describe it is that my body is sort of like a car. Every now and then I have to take it back into the "shop" (physical therapy) for a tune-up.

It's been a long road, but eight years later I am happy to say I'm walking, I am living life, and slowly building up my dance repertoire. I may not ever get back to where I was, but that doesn't matter. I'm alive, and I'm recovering more and more each day. I try to work out daily (stretching, doing yoga, exercising, etc.) and strive towards better movement and mobility.

I have a dancer friend in California, Julie Turner, that I Skype with regularly. Every time we talk, she basically gives me a private dance class. I've also attended a workshop with AXIS Dance Company, for disabled and able-bodied dancers. I've been able to start performing and choreographing more. Dance has not left my life; it just took a detour.

I've also found a new career in motivational speaking, and I love it. I'm not playing a character onstage. Instead, I'm playing myself. And I wrote a book, Falling Isn't Failure, that's filled with photographs documenting my entire journey from the time I got into the hospital to where I am now.

Since I'm still here, I feel it is my duty to share this message of hope and perseverance with the world: Bad things happen, and when they do, we can either lie down and give up, or we can pick ourselves back up and keep moving forward. I am walking proof that when something life-altering happens, it is totally possible to get your happy back.

All photos courtesy Nicole Marquez. You can learn more about her at nicole-marquez.com.

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