EL CAJON, Calif. — Step by halting step, former Olympic high jumper Jamie Nieto made good on his vow to walk wife Shevon down the aisle after their wedding and out the door to a waiting limousine.
It was roughly 130 steps, with a stop halfway down the aisle of the small church to kiss his bride for a gaggle of photographers.
No cane, no walker. Just Nieto holding onto his wife’s left hand for support.
The two-time Olympian fulfilled his vow Saturday, 15 months after suffering a spinal cord injury on a misjudged backflip that left him partially paralyzed, with no feeling in his hands or feet. Doctors didn’t know if he’d walk again.
Nieto, 40, was determined to defy his doctors and make it all the way down the aisle.
“It’s a monumental day so I think I need to do monumental things,” Nieto said before the ceremony while sitting with his groomsman in the office of Bishop Donnie McGriff just off the sanctuary of the Greater Christ Temple Apostolic Church in this city just east of San Diego.
“I’m definitely blessed and super happy to be here. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I think it’s just the first step to many more in my recovery.”
Nieto proposed to the former Shevon Stoddart, a hurdler, while in a wheelchair six months after The Backflip. It used to be his signature move after big events.
On April 23, 2016, the maneuver went seriously wrong for Nieto, who cleared 7 feet, 8 inches to finish fourth at the 2004 Olympics. He was coaching some jumpers in the Los Angeles area when he showed them his backflip expertise. His first attempt was a little off so he asked for another try. He pushed off with one foot on the artificial turf and it slipped, forcing him straight back instead of into a somersault. The full weight of his body crashed on his neck.
He was flown by helicopter to a hospital and had surgery to fuse a disk in his neck. When he awoke, he could only shrug his shoulders and flex his quadriceps muscles.
The high jumper who finished sixth at the 2012 London Games spent 12 days in intensive care and two months at an inpatient rehab facility before returning home.
He’s been rehabbing hard for several months, determined to be able to walk his new wife out of the church.
Before the wedding, Nieto entered the church using a walker. There was a cane on the altar just in case he needed it during the ceremony. He didn’t.
He did get some help from an usher and McGriff walking to the altar.
After the ceremony, the couple posed for pictures. Nieto then sat on the organ bench for a few minutes and wiped his eyes with a tissue.
When it came time for the walk, groomsman Kevin Henderson helped Nieto to his feet.
Holding his wife’s right arm, they slowly made their way the length of the 15 pews. When they reached the vestibule, someone said, “You’re making that look easy.”
Nieto grabbed a handrail to navigate the five brick steps down to the sidewalk, and then it was just a few more steps to the limo.
“It’s amazing,” Henderson said. “He’s been working on it for so long. He set a date as far as when he wanted to walk. That way he knew he could walk down the aisle. He wanted to walk down instead of having to be in a walker or wheelchair. He set a goal and he accomplished it, so that means a lot.”
Nieto started attending the El Cajon church when he was based at an Olympic training center in Chula Vista.
McGriff called it “a miracle in progress.”
“It makes me feel very proud,” McGriff said. “I’ve watched him through the years, from him being an Olympic contender and then to see the tragic accident that he had and the miraculous comeback that he had. He was determined to make it. This was his goal, to walk down the aisle during his wedding. He accomplished his goal as well as many others.”
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