Despite life-altering injury at age 20, Riley continues to reach for the stars
When she takes the stage at South Oakland Shelter’s annual gala Saturday night, Alexandria T. Riley will dance – for a whole host of reasons.
She’ll dance for the enjoyment of guests. She’ll dance for South Oakland Shelter’s efforts to fight homelessness in metro Detroit. And she’ll dance for the satisfaction in knowing she can – and she did.
“I’m terrified,” says Riley, who admits it’s been 20 years since she last took dance classes. “But it’s for a great cause. Homelessness is such a big problem especially in urban areas like metro Detroit.”
“To be part of an event with an organization that is at the forefront of the problem was something I couldn’t pass up.”
Any of the contestants in SOS’s 10th annual Dancing with the Detroit Stars will tell you it takes courage, hard work and support – all of which Riley has relied on for years.
The Pontiac native is the chief development officer for the City of Pontiac. She’s a writer, a business owner and a passionate community supporter. She’s also an amputee.
On Saturday night, Riley and her professional dance partner Nick will waltz to Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” – a fitting song for a wonder woman with a prosthetic leg who even ran for mayor last year.
“We’ll be paying tribute to the Queen of Soul,” she says.
An unexpected turn
Nothing has come easy for Riley since her life-altering accident 12 years ago.
She was just 20 years old when life as she knew it came to a halt. Riley was heading back to U-M Flint, where she was studying public policy and business, when her car was forced into the median on I-75 and then flipped four times.
“I was hanging out of the sunroof for the first three flips. On the fourth, I was thrown from the vehicle,” she recalls.
Her ankle was crushed in the wreck. The nerves to her foot were severed.
“I couldn’t feel my toes,” she says.
With such extensive damage, doctors said her lower leg could not be saved.
“As a woman you focus on appearance and activeness. I was a tennis player and liked wearing high heels and dresses,” Riley says. “And I remember thinking, ‘What happens now?’”
As she sat for weeks in her hospital bed, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her leg, the medical bills began to mount. Riley had no health insurance at the time, and the costs were staggering. But her family rallied around her, helping whenever and wherever they could.
“I had $350,000 in medical bills,” Riley said. “My mom had to scramble to get me a [prosthetic] leg.”
She says the support she received from family, friends and other amputees played a major role in her path to recovery.
“I was truly blessed.”
Dancing with the Detroit Stars will be yet another challenge for Riley, but it’s one she is excited and honored to undertake.
“Everything I’ve accomplished has come from buckling down and working hard,” she says. And her upcoming dance performance will be no exception.
Despite the fact that her mother is a former Pistons cheerleader and founded Riley’s Dance Theatre in Pontiac, Riley says dance had never really been her thing. As a youngster she was much more interested in writing.
“I was a [young] girl writing for newspapers and working on cable access shows,” she says, adding that she was thankful it all got her out of dance class.
But practicing for Saturday’s performance has been different for Riley.
She’s been training at Arthur Murray dance studio in Royal Oak for three weeks and says the experience has been amazing. And when she glides across the stage during the competition, her mom and others will be there cheering her on.
“Everything really has come full circle,” she says.
Join us for the 10th annual Dancing With the Detroit Stars, Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. Purchase tickets here: https://my.southoaklandshelter.org/dancing