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Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 07:33 AM

Gymnastics community rallies around paralyzed Puyallup 15-year-old athlete

By Larry Stone
Seattle Times staff reporter

In the aftermath of her horrific accident Friday, Jacoby Miles was more concerned about her teammates than herself.

Now the gymnastics community is rallying around the 15-year-old Puyallup girl, who is facing the stark reality of a serious spinal-cord injury that has left her paralyzed from the midchest down.

"She's just an amazing girl who has spent all her life serving and volunteering," said former Olympic weightlifter Melanie Roach, owner of the gym in Sumner where the accident occurred. "She's just a great role model for all girls."

Jacoby, a Level 9 gymnast, was hurt doing a "double back" dismount off the uneven bars during a practice session at Roach Gymnastics. Roach called it a "routine move, a skill she's been doing three or four years. She's done it successfully a thousand times."

But this time, according to the family, Jacoby "got lost" before the second flip was completed and landed on her neck on an 8-inch mat.

Jacoby, who attends Ballou Junior High in Puyallup, was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma, then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for surgery, which took place Saturday and lasted six hours.

The family posted on the website getwelljacoby.blogspot.com that the surgery went "very well ... doctors found the spinal cord had been completely pinched off but not severed."

The post also said doctors are "very hopeful" that Jacoby will regain feeling in her arms, and added, "Although the Dr said using her legs again would be in the 'miracle category,' we are praying for and believing she can make a full recovery — she is a STRONG girl!"

A previous post on the site said that Jacoby was at first more concerned about her teammates crying than she was for herself.

Jason Miles, Jacoby's father, said one of the biggest challenges now is lifting the spirits of his daughter as the reality of her situation has hit home.

"We kind of grieved the first night and day when she was pretty heavily sedated," he said. "The next night is when she, as the drugs were wearing off, became much more aware of the magnitude of her injury. She was very anxious and depressed. We're trying to paint a picture of hope for her to stay strong, recover and, hopefully, pass on encouraging things to others."

Jason Miles said the support of friends, family, church and the athletic community has been overwhelming, and he expressed gratitude.

He was hopeful that Jacoby — the oldest of six siblings — could soon be moved out of intensive care. The next step is rehab, either at Harborview or Seattle Children's hospital.

Jacoby, he said, can do biceps curls and shrug her shoulders but can't put her arms back down. He said her vital signs are good and she can breathe on her own. He said that while the prognosis originally was bleak, doctors have since gained more hope.

"They say there's a very good chance of gaining one or two more levels of functionality," he said.

Roach is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from her new book, "Lift: Enjoying the Journey of Life," available at Amazon.com, to the family. The book, which details Roach's path to the Olympics, was published, after numerous delays, on Friday, the day Jacoby got hurt.

"I know that's not an accident," Roach said. "As owner of the gym, I will dedicate every resource I have, every contact I've had, for raising enough money so Jacoby is cared for for the rest of her life."

Jason Miles said his daughter always has been like a "second mom," helping out her mother, Gretchen, with the younger siblings.

"It's really hard on her being so dependent," he said. "That's really what she got joy from, helping others. We're trying to help her understand God can use her through this to help a lot of people. We'll take it one day at a time and work through this."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @StoneLarry

Ways to help

Efforts are under way to raise money for Jacoby Miles' medical expenses and provide support for her and her family. Information on fundraising efforts can be found at www.roachgymnastics.com/jacoby.asp and at getwelljacoby.blogspot.com, which will also post updates on Jacoby's progress.

Until a charity account can be set up in Jacoby's name, Roach Gymnastics is accepting cash, check or Visa donations on behalf of the Miles family. Donations can be made online, dropped off, or mailed to:

Team Jacoby Fund

c/o Roach Gymnastics

627 45th St. E.

Bldg. D-103

Sumner, WA 98390

For donations larger than $500, call the gym at 253-826-5999.

In addition, Emerald City Gymnastics in Redmond is spearheading a nationwide fundraiser in which gymnasts across the country are being asked to make a get-well card for Jacoby and include at least $20. The goal is $50,000 by Thanksgiving. Cards and donations can be sent to:

Team Jacoby Fund

c/o ECGA

17735 N.E. 65th St., Suite 110

Redmond, WA 98052

— Larry Stone


COURTESY OF MILES FAMILY / COURTESY OF MILES FAMILY
Jacoby Miles, 15, had six hours of surgery on Saturday at Harborview Medical Center after her spinal-cord injury during gymnastics practice at a Sumner gym.




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