By Jill Fox
A gymnastics instructor known by many families in the community as “Coach Doug” was killed on Tuesday while vacationing in Costa Rica.
Douglas Sleeman, who has worked with thousands of children from Parkland to Boynton Beach, was celebrating his 50th birthday in Costa Rica. While riding a motorcycle, he was hit by a platform-type trailer which fled the scene of the crash according to La Teja.
Sleeman was an instructor at Twisters Gymnastics for almost 20 years, starting in Boca Raton and then in 2006, moved to the newly-opened Coconut Creek location. He leaves behind three daughters: Irelyn, Eden, and McKenna and fiancé Nanette Gordon.
Twisters Director Debbie Madiou said Sleeman touched the lives of so many kids and their parents.
“He had a positive impact on thousands of children and their families and became a great friend to hundreds of staff members.”
Parkland resident Nikki Kornhauser, whose children, Zoey, 6, and Dean, 3, were both taught by Sleeman said he was the type of coach who built up the children’s confidence, taught them how to overcome their fears and allowed them to believe in themselves.
Sleeman taught more than 25 classes at Twisters, including preschool, grade school boys, trampoline and tumbling classes. He also managed to find time for other jobs as a personal trainer, bouncer and swim instructor.
He enjoyed the beach, water sports, ice hockey, volleyball, working out, country music and, of course, taking care of his three girls.
“Doug loved what he did, inspiring kids, teaching them, he was a great listener and friend,” said Madiou.
In an email to clients of Twisters, staff wrote, “It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Coach Doug. We are devastated by this awful news.”
The letter also said to feel free to share your favorite memories of Coach Doug when visiting the gym.
“This is a time we all need to lean on each other.”
A GoFundMe page was set-up to raise money to help bring Sleeman’s remains back to the United States. Any additional funds raised will go towards other costs, with the remainder going to his daughters. The page has raised over $15,000 by more than 200 people in two days.
Kornhauser said her children are better off for having had the chance to know Sleeman and to be on the receiving end of his love and support.
“It’s heartbreaking to think he won’t be at the gym next week to greet my kids with a hug and a smile.”
- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She is currently a Senior Account Director at Lon Haber & Co., a leading full-service public relations firm. Fox worked at NBC Miami for eight years after graduating from the University of Miami. She lives in Parkland with her husband, Brian and two children.