Despite being paralyzed from the waist down, Jacoby Miles has a powerful presence. The 15-year-old Rogers High School sophomore rolled her battery-powered wheelchair from her bedroom to the family room last week — months after a gymnastics accident left her without any movement in her lower extremities.
It’s been a whirlwind of treatment and family activities since last Nov. 16, when Miles was doing a double back dismount off the uneven parallel bars, a move she had performed many times. Miles got lost in the move, untucked early and landed on her neck at Roach Gymnastics in Sumner.
Doctors said her spinal cord was pinched but not severed. Miles’ family has been told only a miracle cure will allow Jacoby to walk again.
The Miles family’s busy schedule continues in addition to caring for the teenager. Rather than bring in a professional to care for Jacoby, they chose to have family members help her with daily routines, such as eating and brushing her teeth.
“It is important that the whole family gets dirty with it,” said Gretchen Miles, Jacoby’s mother. “We wanted everyone to feel this experience.”
Jacoby’s love for gymnastics began when she was about 7. She recalled first seeing the sport while she was going to the YMCA in Puyallup.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said with a smile. “I did it just for fun.”
She proved to be good enough and was asked to join the team. Her favorite exercise was the uneven parallel bars.
“In the beginning, it was super fun,” Jacoby said. “It was real easy, and I had a fun time.”
During the next eight years, Miles progressed to become a Level 7 gymnast.
Then came the accident.
Immediately afterward, Miles didn’t have any feeling in her arms or legs. Since then, treatment, physical therapy and a stem cell procedure have shown a little progress.
“She has regained all the doctors thought she would, and some,” Gretchen said.
When Miles’ parents arrived at the gym following the accident, they saw their daughter in complete control.
“She was so calm,” Gretchen recalled along with her husband, Jason.
Jacoby wasn’t able to move either arm at first, but now she can move her right arm.
“I still cannot feel my hands, but I can feel deep pressure,” she said.
“I normally feel pretty good,” Jacoby said. “But every other day, I have this nerve pain in my back. It feels like my back is on fire. So that isn’t a very pleasant feeling. It’s like the nerves are trying to fire.”
A physical therapist goes to the Miles home three days a week, for two hours a day, to provide what Jacoby described “vertical therapy.” Miles is regaining weight and muscle mass.
The stem cell procedure was performed in Tijuana, Mexico. Miles had stem cells removed from her bone marrow and inserted into her neck. The treatment was meant to speed her recovery and help repair the damaged area. Miles then received follow-up treatment in California.
She credits some of her progress to the treatment.
“When the accident first happened, everything was new,” Miles said. “So much to learn — wash my face, brush my teeth. As you go along, it gets easier. It is still hard, but you learn to cope with it more. There are good days, and there are bad days.”
Miles enjoys the times when she can return to Roach Gymnastics to work with young gymnasts. She can’t spot the young athletes, but Miles can offer verbal coaching. She also enjoys returning to hang out with her former team.
Gretchen said the community reaction from friends, churches and fellow athletes has been amazing.
“It has really opened our eyes to how good God is,” Gretchen said.
Jacoby’s bedroom is filled with posters, photos and other gifts from a variety of people. Autographs from Olympic athletes are proudly displayed, and a framed photo of a Navy Seals team stationed in Afghanistan is hung in her room. Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug sent her a pair of vault shoes she used during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist who now lives in New York, spoke to Jacoby by phone while Jacoby was in the hospital, and Liukin has sent gifts to her, including a New York Yankees baseball cap.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gave the family an autographed photograph.
“The love that others have shown us has blown us away,” Gretchen said.
A 2013 Toyota Sienna van and a wheelchair lift were donated. An auction last December, attended by 12 Olympian athletes, raised $180,000.
Melanie Roach, a former Olympic weightlifter and the author of a newly published book, “Lift: Enjoying the Journey of Life,” is donating proceeds to Miles.
The Seattle Gymnastics Academy sends the family $1,000 every month.
Roach said more fundraisers are scheduled, including the first Jacoby Miles Classic on Oct. 5 at Roach Gymnastics and Cheer. For more information, visit www.goteamjacoby.com.
Meanwhile, many volunteers added about 1,400 square feet to the Miles family home. The materials and labor were all donated.
“They have been amazing,” Gretchen said.
Jacoby has completed math and science requirements from her classes at Ballou Junior High School this summer, and she’s looking forward to taking a full set of classes next month at Rogers High.
Jacoby and her parents believe she will be healed.
“I trust that I will walk again,” she said. “That is the mindset you have to have.”
Gretchen agrees but understands why doctors have told them it will take a miracle for Jacoby to walk.
“You see situations all of the time where doctors are telling people they won’t walk again (yet they do),” Gretchen said. “No one can tell another person they will never walk again. That is not for them to decide.”Tom McCrady is a freelance reporter for the Herald.