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Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 09:51 PM

Olympians turn out to support paralyzed gymnast Jacoby Miles

By Blythe Lawrence
Special to The Seattle Times

TACOMA — Kerri Strug remembers the landing.

No, not that landing. Two years before the vault that secured the U.S. women's team gold at the 1996 Olympics and made her a household name, Strug peeled off the uneven bars and crashed to the ground at a twisted, cringeworthy angle.

It took months of rehabilitation on her back, but Strug was able to get back on her feet and continue pushing toward her second Olympic Games. Monday night, she was in Tacoma to support someone who could not: Jacoby Miles, a 15-year-old Puyallup gymnast who was paralyzed in a training accident Nov. 16.

Miles, a student at Ballou Junior High in Puyallup, got lost in the air and landed badly while attempting a double-back dismount off the uneven bars, a high-level skill she had performed successfully for several years. But on this particular attempt, she got lost in the air and landed on her neck on an eight-inch mat.

The Tacoma community and the larger national gymnastics community has rallied to her aid.

A local construction company donated its services to enlarge the Miles' Puyallup home by 1,300 square feet, so she will have room to maneuver when she goes home.

Three companies teamed up to donate a fully ADA accessible 2012 Toyota Sienna van, and a weekend at a cabin in Shelton, purchased at Monday night's benefit auction at Temple Theatre, was instantly given to the family by the couple who purchased it.

Although Miles was unable to attend the benefit, she has been transferred from Harborview Medical Center to Seattle Children's Hospital to begin rehabilitation. Though running a fever Monday night, she is hoping to be back home with her family before Christmas, said Julie Malloy, who organized the auction. Doctors expect her to remain paralyzed from the mid-chest down, though there is hope that she will regain some functionality in her arms.

And once she's home, there will be other expenses. The ballpark cost of caring for a paraplegic over a lifetime is $5 million, Malloy said. The figure doubles for quadriplegics. The Miles were hoping the benefit would generate $100,000.

Fourteen Olympians, including Hope Solo, Queen Underwood, Carly Patterson, the 2004 Olympic all-around gymnastics champion, and two-time Olympian Peter Vidmar attended the sold-out event, which included dinner, a benefit auction and, for an extra $100, a chance to meet the Olympians.

"Our hearts go out to her," said Strug, now married and raising her baby son in Arizona. "From what I've heard from her friends and family, this little girl has a lot of fight and spirit."

Word of Miles' injury spread quickly among the gymnastics community, and USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, who is from Mercer Island, encouraged some of the sport's biggest names to attend Monday's function.

"In the sport of gymnastics everyone knows everyone," Strug said. "We're a smaller community than you'd think, except during the Olympics when gymnastics is larger than life."

Those who couldn't come found other ways to make a difference. Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion, sent an autographed leotard for the auction.

Flip Fest, a summer gymnastics camp run by two former Olympic gymnasts, donated a week at their camp. Two autographed posters of the Fierce Five, the gold-medal winning 2012 U.S. women's Olympic team, sold for $3,500 each at the auction.

"I've never seen such an outpouring of support in my life," said Malloy, whose daughter, Lenzi, also is a gymnast. "Jacoby's a strong girl. She's got a really strong faith, and so much support. We know she can do this."

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


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