So his presence at the USA Track & Field meet at Portland’s Jesuit High School Friday was just icing on the cake, which makes his “freak accident,” as his former coach put it, even more tragic.
At approximately 1:30 p.m., Kennedy was warming up for the javelin toss — an event in which participants toss a javelin, an approximately 8-foot-long, generally metal-tipped spear once used as a long-range combat weapon. Participants toss the javelin as far as they can. Upon landing, the spiked edge usually digs into the grass, marking the spear’s position.
One of Kennedy’s practice throws left his javelin skewed at an odd angle with the sharp end pointing up from the ground. He sauntered over the grass to retrieve it.
When he reached the javelin, though, one of his spikes on the underside of his cleats caught a loose patch of grass, and he found himself falling helplessly toward his spear. It drove into his right eye socket, near the nose, puncturing through soft flesh.
“It was kind of sticking up at a 45-degree angle, and he literally tripped and fell,” Donnie Herneisen, the head coach of Hood River Valley High School, told BuzzFeed News. “His spikes caught in the grass and it was the wrong angle and the javelin pierced his eye.”
In a small stroke of luck for the young athlete, the angle of entry led the spear’s tip to drive toward the roof of his mouth, rather than his brain, which could have proven fatal.
“As I understand it, from the folks who were there, it went at a downward angle towards his mouth, not towards his brain,” Herneisen said.
Kennedy remained conscious as someone helped him remove the javelin from his eye socket, and he was immediately flown to OHSU Hospital in Portland, the Oregonian reported.
Jerry Westfall, the Oregon chapter president of U.S.A Track and Field, added that while Kennedy didn’t suffer brain damage, he would likely need reconstructive surgery, according to KATU.
Rather than give interviews, his parents, Barry and Carrie Kennedy, chose to release a statement through the Oregon Health and Science University on Sunday morning. It said Parker has shown signs of progress and retains partial eyesight in his right eye.
It remains unclear how the injury will affect his athletic career.
The full statement obtained by The Washington Post:
“Parker is in fair condition. He is talking, moving, and showing signs of progress. He is able to see out of his injured eye, but his vision is still slightly blurry. His neuro status is good. He’s staying at the hospital so his team of doctors and nurses can monitor his progress.
“Our family would like to thank the many people who have helped Parker, including the Tualatin paramedics who were first on the scene, his health care team at OHSU, his track family, and all the family and friends who have reached out to support us.”
This sort of incident is why the javelin toss is a hotly contested sport in the United States.
Only 20 states actually allow it, and it’s been banned in high schools in many parts of the country for decades, NPR reported. Still, it seems as if each year brings a new state weighing the idea of bringing it back — from South Carolina to Arizona.
It isn’t difficult to understand why the sport is commonly banned. The primary instrument used in it was invented as a weapon for hunting and warfare and was often employed by the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks then began using it in sport as part of the Olympic Games in 708 BC, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Accidents do occur.
In Germany in 2012, 74-year-old official Dieter Strack was killed after being impaled by a javelin thrown by a 15-year-old competitor, Time reported. The spear had ruptured his carotid artery. In 2008, a javelin thrower accidentally impaled a professional long-jumper, who was forced to give up the sport for several months as his internal injuries healed, the New York Times reported. And these incidents aren’t new — a 1959 edition of The Glasgow Herald ran a similar story about a teacher killed by a javelin while the school watched on.
Some, though, think the dangers are overblown.
In 1956, South Carolina banned javelin from high school competition because it was “too dangerous for spectators,” reasoning that high school athlete Liam Christensen is currently attempting to disprove. Echoing research published by University of North Carolina professor Frederick Mueller, he pointed out in the Post and Courier that there have only been 25 high school track-related deaths from 1982 to 2011 due to javelin, shot put or discus.
“It really doesn’t happen that often,” Christensen said.