2-time Olympic high jumper paralyzed after backflip mishap
Two-time Olympic high jumper Jamie Nieto is steadily regaining sensation after a backflip gone wrong during a training session left him paralyzed.
Nieto recently posted a video to let his fans and friends know he’s starting to “move more stuff and breathing better.” In the more than three-minute video from his hospital bed, Nieto, who was already retired from competition, said his plan is to document his recovery until he’s “100 percent better with no complications.”
The 39-year Nieto was coaching in Los Angeles last week when he attempted a backflip — his signature move while competing — and didn’t complete the rotation, landing on his head. Nieto was rushed to the hospital with numbness throughout his body and an inability to move his arms and legs. He also struggled to breathe.
He had surgery to fuse a disk in his neck and each day he’s regaining strength.
“A lot of things come into perspective when something like this happens — makes you realize stuff like this can happen to anybody,” said Nieto, who finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics and sixth at the 2012 London Games. “One day you’re floating along and life is going well and everything is cool. Maybe you get in a car accident or do training things and flip and hit your head. You never know what can happen.
“I’d like to thank God I’m still alive.”
His agent, Paul Doyle, wrote on a blog that Nieto was coaching a group of jumpers when they began performing backflips at the end of practice — first on the high jump pit and then on the ground. Nieto didn’t complete the rotation and landed on his head, falling to the ground and was paralyzed.
When paramedics arrived at the scene, they called for a helicopter to transport him to the USC Trauma Center. Once there, he began to regain some feeling in his hands and feet, but he couldn’t move any of his limbs. Test results indicated no breaks of the spine or cut in the spinal cord.
“The progress Jamie is making is definitely positive. He is able to breathe more comfortably now, he is swallowing liquids and soft foods now. His movement is coming back slowly,” Doyle wrote. “The outlook remains positive that Jamie can still make a full recovery. He is working hard to get back, approaching these movements like you’d expect an athlete would doing reps in the weight room.”
Nieto doesn’t have health insurance. To defray the medical costs, several athletes are stepping up. Hurdler Lolo Jones helped establish a fund for Nieto that’s already raised more than $43,000. Shot put standout Ryan Whiting is pledging 10 percent of his winnings from the Olympics Trials toward Nieto’s care. He’s asking fellow athletes to join him under the hashtag “MoreThanATeam.”
In the video, Nieto thanked everyone for their support.
“For me, seeing the overwhelming response really let me know how many peoples’ lives that I’ve touched,” Nieto said.