Jamie Nieto sprawled face down in the grass near the high jump pit at Azusa Pacific University’s deserted Cougar Athletic Stadium, unable to feel his arms or legs.
The two-time Olympic high jumper’s mind raced. An instant earlier, he had finished another session coaching four Olympic hopefuls by performing a couple of backflips. He had reeled them off hundreds, maybe thousands of times at the end of each competition before retiring in 2013. But on the warm April morning last year, the 39-year-old’s foot slipped. He knew in midair that the flip had gone wrong. His neck crashed into the ground, followed by the rest of his body.
Nieto’s chest felt like a tight band encased it. He prayed he wasn’t paralyzed.
T.J. Shankar, who grew up in India watching videos of Nieto’s jumps, figured his coach was kidding around. Jillian Schmidt, a former Cal Poly Pomona jumper aiming for the U.S. Olympic …