Today I’m going to get a bit personal and tell you a story. It’s a story about split time. When everything is reframed, referring to “before it” and “after it,” because it has changed everything. It’s a story about unimaginable tragedy and the kind of triumph that provides hope for so many.
The story is about my daughter, Nicole, who as a child was considered quite stubborn. It was her way or no way, and if she wanted something she sunk her teeth into it. At the time, her stubbornness was not considered a good trait, mainly because it made life hard for my husband and me, for her teachers and for anyone else who had to deal with that side of Nicole.
Fast forward, and that stubborn trait is now viewed a different way. She is a young adult, in her mid-30s (how did THAT happen?) and now she is considered to be determined, motivated, driven. Those attributes are considered a positive thing. But it’s that stubborn streak that got Nicole into a terrible fix, and it’s the same stubborn streak that helped get her out of it to where she is today.
Nicole always wanted to be a performer. From an early age, she loved performing to an audience, even if it was all her dolls lined up in her bedroom. She sang. She danced. And she could act. “Do a sad face, Nicole.” She would put on a sad-sack frown with big, sad eyes looking up. “Do a surprised face, Nicole.” Her eyes would open wide and her little mouth would form an “O” shape.
She started dance class at age three, a hilarious sight to see. Pot-bellied little girls in tiny pink leather ballet slippers lined up with their hands clasped above their heads.
When she was ten years old, Nicole was cast in a children’s television series produced at Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The show, “Funnybones,” won an Emmy and was aired in markets around the country.
At age 15 she had a radio program that ran weekly on 95.5 “The Beat.” Called “Nic’s Picks: What’s Hot and What’s Not,” she made commentaries on fashion, movies, and any number of other subjects important to teens. That gig led to an audition at WLBT-TV, which turned into a weekly teen report, with Nicole interviewing and reporting on ordinary teens doing extraordinary things. That lasted three years, through her freshman year of college.
Nicole and me.
After graduating with a degree in theatre and dance, Nicole landed two acting apprenticeships, one in the Berkshires (Stockbridge, Massachusetts) and the other in Louisville, Kentucky. Those apprenticeships helped prepare her for her lifelong dream of moving to New York, which she did in January 2008.
She spent a few months learning the city, going to auditions, and earning her Pilates certification so she could be a personal trainer – the ideal job for the flexibility she needed to go to auditions.
On August 30, 2008, after her best audition yet, Nicole returned to her Harlem apartment and realized she didn’t have her keys. Calls to her roommates went unanswered. A fixer by nature, she went to the roof (a familiar place where she and her friends sunbathed and studied lines). She was hoping to go down a fire escape to an open window in her apartment. Instead, she somehow fell. Six stories. She landed at the bottom of the building’s filthy air shaft. And she laid there overnight, for the next eight hours, until the building’s superintendent spotted her the next morning.
Nicole had suffered a broken neck, back, pelvis, and ribs. A rib punctured her lung, which collapsed. A piece of broken glass left a nasty laceration on her shoulder blade that looked like a big Nike swoosh.
The next months were grueling, with surgeries and setbacks, accomplishments and anticipation, work and slow progress, followed by years of physical and occupational therapy. (We are forever grateful to the amazing work done by the staff at Methodist Rehab.)
What I noticed during that time was the stubborn streak morphed into a determination so strong that no one could stop her. She worked so hard, day after day, to strengthen her atrophied muscles, retrain her nerves to communicate to the right parts of her body and she did it all with a smile on her face. She has a happy heart and never saw herself as a victim. Yet she was a dancer who could no longer control her body to move on a stage as she once did.
In the past ten years, there have been many triumphant moments as Nicole first wiggled fingers and toes, took her first steps, walked independently, and eased into her new normal. She has physical challenges, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. She has learned ways to adapt and she has no qualms about asking anyone, friend or stranger, for help if she needs it.
And by the way, friends and strangers made our entire journey much easier. People stepped up in a major way to contribute to her medical fund, offer meals, housekeepers and other services to make our lives easier so we could focus on Nicole’s rehab. There’s no way we could ever pay that back, but we will forever pay it forward.
Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of her accident.
There’s something about that ten-year mark for any anniversary that seems like a special milestone. Ten years ago there’s no way I could predict that she would one day be engaged, that she would have a beautiful life, that she would inspire so many just by waking up and doing what she does each day. And what she does is stretching, yoga, working with a trainer, and developing a career in motivational speaking.
Nicole has traveled the country over the last nine years, speaking to churches, schools, colleges, women’s groups, leadership conferences as well as major organizational and corporate events.
On Thursday, that important ten year anniversary, she will be the speaker for the Mississippi University for Women’s Honor’s Forum in Columbus. To me, that is a most triumphant way to mark that ten-year anniversary of a life-changing event. The event could have changed her life – and ours – in a horrible way. But instead, our lives are richer and fuller than ever. We appreciate things in a whole new way. And now, I’m truly grateful that God blessed me with a stubborn child. She used that once-negative trait to her advantage, determined and strong as she faces her life each day.
To read more about Nicole Marquez, visit her website at www.nicole-marquez.com.