Jagger Eaton won a bronze medal for skateboarding at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, becoming the first American to win a medal in the sport. But the 20-year-old, who's named after rocker Mick Jagger, was already a hero in his hometown of Mesa, Arizona, where he helped a little boy with a rare muscular disease feel the freedom of riding.
"Fritz was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at 10 months," his mom, Sarah Krieger, told TODAY. "It's a rare genetic disorder, though it is not in any of our genes."
Fritz, who has four siblings, had delayed milestones as an infant, and his parents initially thought it was due to a food allergy. But his blood work eventually revealed "the worst thing you could read about on Google," Krieger recalled.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), primarily affecting males, is progressive condition resulting in muscle loss and weakness that gets worse over time. The heart may also became enlarged, and breathing problems can develop, both of which can be life-threatening. There's no known cure for DMD, and it affects 16 out of every 100,000 live births in the U.S.
"Kids lose ability to walk around age 7 to 12, and then it moves into upper limbs and restricts movement of upper arms, then heart and diaphragm," Krieger explained. "Most do not survive late teens, upper 20s, though some have survived to 30."
"We really grieved," she added of getting the news.
The Krieger family met Eaton because his father, Geoff, owns a skate gym, Kids That Rip, in Mesa. And even though Fritz's physical abilities are different for his age — his mom says he "appears like a 3-year-old," and he runs differently, can only jump a little bit and fatigues easily — he still loves going to the gym and doing what his brothers do.
Krieger said that Kids That Rip, which has ninja warrior courses in addition to a skateboarding program, has become a home away from home for her brood.
"It's this big place where kids can roam free," she added. "Jagger grew up there."
At first, Krieger wasn't sure if Fritz would be able to participate, explaining, "I was at a crossroads as Fritz was old enough ... but to navigate that was murky."
But she told Fritz's story to the Eaton family, suggesting that her son's participation would have to "look different," and they welcomed Fritz with open arms, offering to adapt activities for him.
"They were more than generous," Krieger recalled.
The Kriegers started a nonprofit called Fritz and Friends a year after Fritz's diagnosis to fund research for his disease, and the Eatons and their gym have sponsored two events, giving 100% percent of the day's revenue to the cause.
The Olympian's constant presence in the gym has inspired her kids, too.
"Jagger was always in the gym skating and would say hi to my boys," she said. "We knew he was good. To watch him train and his focus, to see the commitment. He would give a high five, he was so kind and welcoming to any boy. He would use his platform to promote our events."
The highlight for Fritz was getting a chance to skateboard with the now-bronze medalist in late 2019. They even took on a halfpipe together, hand in hand.
"Skateboarding is not something he can do on his own," Krieger said. But from the look on his face, he's flying.
Naturally, the Kriegers were cheering Eaton on as he competed in Tokyo.
"It was cool to watch him on a scale like that," she said, adding that Eaton embodies the mission of Fritz and Friends: Strength is more than muscle.
"You can be strong in so many other ways," Krieger stressed. "Jagger is making kids feel strong in a way that’s way greater than physical strength."
"We look at Olympians, and we can praise them for their accomplishments, but more of their strength (comes) in their dedication, their kindness and the way they carry themselves. There are all these ways they are strong that we don’t see. That is true strength."