The gymnast who became a quadriplegic (and later died) from a vaulting accident

1 Aug

Tuesday workout:  30 minutes elliptical-like machine (+total fo 20 minutes of bike riding to and from work) + 20 minutes weights

I have the day off and am watching the end of the woman’s team gymnastics event.  Sadly, I was so tired that I passed out while watching it last night.  I even slept through Dean leaving to drive my friend home.  I am such a wonderful host.  haha.

This morning I wanted to sleep in.  I needed to sleep in, but I’m having sinus issues yet again, and lying down and not moving makes it worse, so was kinda forced to get up so that I could somewhat breathe.  I’ve decided I’m allergic to something in the ED reading room and that’s why I keep getting these recurrent sinus infections….

Anyone else love watching the gymnastics?  I have so much respect for these women (girls).  Yes, I am amazed by their ability to combine pure raw physical strength with grace, but what I am even more impressed with is the amount of mental strength they must have.  One second of doubt leading to one little mistake, and all you’ve trained for hour after hour, day after day, year after year gets thrown away, just like that.  My heart broke for Jordyn Wieber when a balance check on the beam and a heel going out of bounds may have been what cost her advancing to the all round event.

It’s much the same way with skating.  In figure skating there is ONE medal ceremony.  You don’t get a ton of chances to win a medal like you do in swimming.  ONE chance to prove yourself during a 2 minute 50 second short program and a 4 minute long program.  One little slip and it’s all over.  Ughh, can you imagine having that kind of pressure on your shoulders?  I mean, the nervousness was intense for me just competing at the regional level.  What if my timing is off on my double axel and I fall and fail to advance to the final round?  What if I trip on my footwork?  I can’t even imagine the amount of pressure when you have your whole country’s weight on your shoulders, and millions of people watching you.  Makes me shudder thinking about it.

I am also impressed not just by the amount of mental strength needed to compete as a gymnast, but how much must be necessary to acquire the skills to compete at the elite level.  I mean, with skating, if you are learning a new skill and are afraid of falling, at least when you fall you typically land on your butt or your hip, but I can’t imagine overcoming fear associated with learning a new skill when you could possibly mess up at a time when you are way high above the ground (high bars) and/or when your head is below your feet.  Coming down on your head is a lot scarier than coming down on your butt!!  So is running full speed at and then flipping over a vault….

This is NOT a picture of the girl described below

I remember reading a story in the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (a book about the hardships and abuses associated with being an elite gymnast and figure skater) about a gymnast, Julissa Gomez, who suffered a tragic accident on the vault during a competition that left her as a quadriplegic at the age of 15:

In May 1988, several months before the Olympics, she [Julissa Gomez] traveled with her coach to TokyoJapan, to compete in the World Sports Fair. In an eerie foreshadowing of events to come, during the qualifying rounds of the competition, Gomez reportedly spoke about the Soviet gymnast Elena Mukhina, who had been paralyzed in an accident in 1980 just a few weeks before the Moscow Olympics.[5] Mukhina’s former coach, Mikhail Klimenko, was reportedly in attendance at the meet.[1]

During the all-around competition, Gomez qualified for the vault finals. However, observers had noticed her struggle with the apparatus over the months leading up to the competition, including her former coach Béla Károlyi, past and present teammates, and even her present coach Al Fong. Gomez’s technique on the extremely difficultYurchenko vault had been described as shaky at best, and Gomez was unable to perform the vault with any consistency during practices, sometimes missing her feet on the springboard.[1] A teammate from Károlyi’s, Chelle Stack, later stated, “You could tell it was not a safe vault for her to be doing. Someone along the way should have stopped her.”[1] However, Julissa’s coaches insisted that she needed to continue training and competing the Yurchenko vault in order to achieve high scores.[1]

During warmups for the final, held on May 5, 1988, Gomez continued to practice the Yurchenko.  As she raced toward the vault on one of her practice runs, her foot slipped off the springboard and her head hit the vaulting horse at high speed. The resulting impact instantly paralyzed her from the neck down.[6] A subsequent accident at a Japanese hospital, in which she became disconnected from her ventilator,[1] resulted in severe brain damage and left her in a catatonic state. Gomez’s family cared for her for three years before she succumbed to an infection and died in August 1991 in Houston, just three months shy of her nineteenth birthday.[2]


The above screen shot was obtained from this website.

2 Responses to “The gymnast who became a quadriplegic (and later died) from a vaulting accident”

  1. Jenn @ Run It My Way August 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    So sad… I read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes years ago – so many sad stories in that book. There is so much pressure on young girls in so many sports – gymnastics and figure skating in particular. I was a gymnast for 8 years – and yes, lots of those moves are scary!! I can remember being pretty terrified of some of things we did, especially on vault. Those yurchenko style vaults are scary, I wouldn’t attempt them because I was so afraid of the blind backwards entry to the vault – I was so afraid I would miss the vault with my hands or that I wouldn’t enter it high enough so I would smack into the vault… It’s scary stuff! And you’re right – when you’re doing moves at that level, you can’t have ANY hesitation or self-doubt – if you wimp out at the last second, that’s when you get really hurt.

    All the same, watching the Olympics makes me miss it! Did you see McKayla Maroney’s AMAZING vault last night???

  2. Kristy Hill (@KristyH5) August 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    OMG I didn’t know that story, that is so sad…..

    Bars is my favorite event to watch in gym. The beam scares the crap out of me!

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