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Former Olympian Jamie Nieto was driven by the power of his love and a promise he made to his bride, Jamaican hurdler Shevon Stoddart, to do the impossible on his wedding day Saturday: walk.
The two-time Olympic high jumper was severely injured following a backflip accident in April 2016. He suffered a spinal cord injury that left him partially paralyzed.
Despite doctors’ uncertainty whether Nieto, 40, would ever walk again, he recently told The Associated Press that “there was never a doubt” in his mind that he will one day make a full recovery.
“I feel like it’s not fast enough. I want to be better tomorrow,” he said. “I’m built for speed, not for going slow. But I’m working on being the best walker I can be.”
And on Saturday, Nieto did indeed make his way on his own two feet inside the Christ Temple Apostolic Church in east San Diego, holding onto a loved one as he shuffled to the altar. Gathered friends and family erupted into applause and tears.
His blushing bride, 34-year-old Stoddart, then made her way down the aisle while singing Celine Dion’s ballad “Because You Loved Me” to a beaming Nieto. They exchanged vows before their loved ones, not a dry eye in the pews.
Nieto’s journey to that moment has been one riddled with challenges — and triumphs. Stoddart has aided him throughout, assisting him with tasks such as getting dressed.
Stoddart’s devotion inspired Nieto to try his best to get back to 100 percent. “As I get better and better, she has to do less and less,” Nieto told the AP. “She’s done so much for me.”
Stoddart’s unwavering support has also helped Nieto to mentally push back against the challenges he faced. The pair first met around 2010, when they both showed up to audition for a TV commercial selling TVs.
“I just said, ‘Hi,’” he recalled. Though Stoddart ended up getting the part, there were no hard feelings; the two athletes kept in touch via Facebook, with Nieto suggesting at one point that the two of them have dinner after a track meet. Their relationship blossomed from there.
Then, the accident that initially left him with no feeling in his hands and feet. “We were talking about getting married before the accident, and when I had the accident it was clear to me, ‘What are we waiting on?’ You never know — you could be gone tomorrow,” he said. “I asked her if she was ready to get married now or wait until I got better.”
Stoddart said she wanted to wait. They're now married, and she's pushing Nieto to continue to progress in his recovery.
“I keep pushing him forward,” she said in a recent interview with the AP. “After he (walks down the aisle), I’m going to be like, ‘OK, now jog. Now run.’ I continue to push him so he can be the best he can be.”