Olympian overcomes paralysis diagnosis, walks again
Jamie Nieto was paralyzed from the chest down after landing on his neck while doing a backflip several years ago.
On Friday, student athletes competed in the Jamie Nieto Track and Field meet at Sacramento City College.
“To compete at the highest level and win, you can’t get any better than that,” Nieto said, reflecting on his Olympic career.
Nieto didn’t always have his eyes set on the high jump, but when a bad grade in geometry his junior year of high school kept him off the basketball team, things changed.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you come out for track,’” Nieto said.
Nieto did — and he was good.
“I was finding myself progressing kind of fast,” he said. “I just had a love for wanting to jump for some reason.”
After starting at Sacramento City College, Nieto went on to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“Still to this day, it’s one of my favorite moments in track and field,” he said.
At 35, he returned to the Olympic stage, competing in the 2012 London games.
The following year, after two decades of competition, Nieto retired and started coaching. When he was at a training meeting, Nieto was talking to a friend about his signature move — a celebratory backflip — and the friend asked if he could still do it.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I can still do backflips,” he said.
Nieto tried it out, first, sticking the landing.
“When I went to try one more, I was on AstroTurf and for some strange reason, my foot slipped,” he said.
Nieto landed on his neck and his body went numb.
“I couldn’t feel anything from the chest down,” he said. “I was paralyzed.”
Doctors told Nieto and his then-financée he may never walk again.
“We couldn’t accept that,” he said. “We wouldn’t accept that.”
After months of painful recovery, Nieto defied the odds, walking his new bride down the aisle on their wedding day.
“It was a blessing to be able to get up and walk my wife down the aisle,” Nieto said.
Sitting in the press box at his alma mater on Friday, with his wife by his side, Nieto watched young athletes compete at a track and field meet named in his honor.
“It’s just very special,” he said. “It’s a very special moment for me.”
Nieto hopes the student athletes never give up, no matter what challenges may face them.
“This is where I started,” Nieto said. “This is where I made it. Good luck.”
Nieto has written a children’s book and autobiography that he hopes will inspire others.
He and his wife, Shevon, have a foundation that helps people overcome similar injuries or strokes.
Shevon, an Olympic athlete and singer, is also using her music to help others with their recovery.