When most people think of gymnastics, they think of the incredible acrobatics including back flips and leaps performed by sports figures such as Sean Johnson, Gabby Douglas and other Olympians, without fully realizing how dangerous the sport can be. This is especially true at the at the high school level, where the injury rate has been found to be on an equal level with other hard-hitting contact sports such as football, lacrosse and hockey. In fact, the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Oh reports that, “of the three million children between the ages of 6 and 17 who do gymnastics, more than 25,000 of them are treated for gymnastics-related injuries in U.S. emergency rooms each year. They also stated that only about 40% of injuries take place while athletes are training at a gym under the guidance of a coach. Another 40% happen during school recreation programs and the remaining 20% arefrom accidents at home.
While most injuries tend to be aches and pains of the shoulders, wrists and other upper body extremities, as well as trauma to ankles, knees and spines caused by “over-use,” some accidents can be life-threatening as in the case of Jacoby Miles, a 15-year-old competitive gymnast from Puyallup, WA, who became paralyzed when she dislocated her C4 vertebrae after “taking a misstep” on the uneven bars last Friday.
According to her coach Melanie Roach, Miles was set to practice a move she’d “done successfully a thousand times,” when she became disoriented as she spun through the air before completing her second flip, and ended up landing on her neck, with only an 8-inch mat to break her fall.
Miles was immediately taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma, where doctors told the family that the chances of using her legs again would be in the “miracle category.”
“I think this is one of the worst nightmares for a parent,” said her father, Jason Miles. It’s definitely up and down emotionally and you have moments of grieving, but rely on the hope and the support we’ve been shown.”
Yet, despite his own heartache, Miles’ father stated that he would not discourage other parents from allowing their kids to participate in gymnastics. He said he believes his daughter’s injuries were a freak accident, a sentiment backed up by coach Roach.
“Millions of gymnasts work out all over the country every day and after this happened I had to scour gyms all across the country to find three other similar incidences,” she said. “I think the chances of winning the lottery are actually more likely, that’s how rare this is.”
Note: The Center for Injury Research and Policy’s injury report also emphasized that sending gymnasts between the ages of 6-11 to the gym is “likely to prevent harm. A much higher percentage of accidents for kids in this age group are the result of jumping off coffee tables and bouncing on couches without the benefit of a mat or coaching.”