At the age of ten, Julissas
family packed up their belongings and moved from San Antonio to
Houston, Texas so that Julissa could train with Bela Karolyi. One
week before the 1987 US National Championships, Julissa left
Karolyis gym. She trained for a brief period at another gym
in Houston before settling at Al Fongs gym in Blue Springs,
Julissa was told that in order to
remain competitive, she must perform the Yurchenko vault. Julissa
never felt comfortable with this vault, but continued to train
the vault. A few months before the 1988 US Olympic Trials,
Julissa entered the 1988 World Sports Fair in Tokyo, Japan.
Julissa performed well on the first day and qualified to the
vault event finals. That day, someone had also directed Julissa's
attention to a Soviet coach across the floor of the Tokyo arena
-- Elena Mukhina's former coach. That night, Julissa couldn't
stop thinking about Elena Mukhina, the 1978 World AA Champion who
became paralyzed after landed on her head during a tumbling run
two weeks before the beginning of the 1980 Olympics.
During warm-ups the next day,
Julissa was off and barely made the first vault. On
her second vault, her right foot missed the
springboard and she crashed into and over the vault. Her forehead slammed into the side of the horse,
breaking her neck. Japanese TV actually broadcast this vault.
Julissas parents were
immediately flown to Japan, where doctors informed
her parents that they were 99 percent certain that
Julissa was paralyzed from the neck down. One week
later Julissa has a tracheotomy (a procedure to help
her breath on her own) and every day she was
breathing more and more on her own. Julissas
parents proceeded to make arrangements to fly her
home, but when they arrived at the hospital they were
told that during the night Julissa had become
disconnected from her oxygen supply. She was in a
coma with considerable brain damage.
Julissa was eventually brought
back to the USA, where she required round-the-clock care. The
USGFs insurance would pay for nurses for only 40 hours per
week, so Julissas family (father Ramiro, mother Otilia and
sister Kristy) shared the burden of watching over Julissas
ventilator, maintaining her feeding tube, changing and bathing her. Three years later, in August 1991,
Julissa contracted an infection and passed away.
© 1999-2002. This page was created on
January 26, 1999 and last updated on December 22, 1999.