Accident leads young dancer to find purpose through performance

Rising ' Demarco Sleeper's Full Story

CLEVELAND - Twenty-two-year-old Demarco Sleeper is an "excuse eraser."  His life journey is a testament that no excuses are allowed when working to find ways to live out a dream in the midst of adversity.

“Everybody is dealt a hand and they don’t realize that the hand can change at any moment,” says Sleeper.

THE EARLY YEARS

Sleeper spent his early years with his biological mother and five brothers living on the east side of Cleveland.  He says his mother found it difficult to balance financially providing for her children and giving them the attention they needed.

“Everything got rough and we went into foster care,” says Sleeper.  “I started building this person that could handle the world as it was thrown to them.”

After bouncing around to different foster homes, and a brief stay with his biological father, Sleeper and four of his brothers were adopted by Ernest and Mary Sleeper, of Euclid.

“All Demarco liked to do was sing and dance,” says Sleeper’s adoptive mother Mary.  “If he couldn’t sing and dance, he didn’t want to do nothing else.”

“I wanted to be a performer,” says Demarco Sleeper.  “When I got into high school, I really got into dance.”

THE ACCIDENT

Demarco’s dream was almost stripped from him one cold December night in 2013.  He was speeding on I-90 in Avon. The SUV he was driving encountered black ice and flipped.  Demarco and his two passengers, a brother and a friend, were ejected from the truck.  All three survived.

“I got a T12 spinal cord break and it was incomplete,” says Sleeper.  “What hit me most was they didn’t have the exact time frame or exactly knew if I was going to be able to walk or not.”

Demarco depended on the strong mentality he developed while in foster care to keep the right attitude during recovery.

“You just got to work with what you have to get better,” says Demarco Sleeper.  “If I let it (his injury) defeat me, then I feel like I didn’t succeed.  Beating it is only going to make me stronger as a person.  Having that attitude helped a lot.”

“I tried to do everything in my power to help him. He kept pushing me away,” says Mary Sleeper. “Demarco is a driver.  He drives. Anything he wants to do, he drives at it.  He don’t give up.”

DANCING WHEELS

Demarco went through out-patient therapy at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute on Cleveland’s west side.

At the advice of his music therapist, he auditioned for the Dancing Wheels Company and School. Dancing Wheels is a professional, physically integrated dance company utilizing the skills of dancers with and without disabilities.

“Demarco just echoes what I wanted my artistry and my dance to do,” says the company’s founder Mary Verdi-Fletcher.  “Taking hold of your life and finding the things that give you joy and going after them.”

RELATED |  7 minutes with Russ Mitchell: Mary Verdi-Fletcher

The factory worker now turned professional dancer has advice for those facing adversity.

“Don’t just sit around and not do anything and stop living life,” says Demarco Sleeper.  “I don’t want to have self-pity. People do that and the time and energy they put into doing that they could be putting it into helping themselves”

Demarco is now paid for his work with Dancing Wheels.

“The issue of viable employment for persons with disabilities is an important one too," says Verdi-Fletcher. "The fact that he could gain employment in an area that he has always loved is monumental,”.

“When I see that people are being helped, that they learned something it brings it all around,” says Demarco Sleeper.  “I feel like people don’t see a disability.  They see somebody beating a disability.”


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