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Integrity, faith, greatness

Son had hit his head before, but severity of pole vaulting accident was uncommon, father says.

September 09, 2009|By Britney Barnes

Sloshing through the mud in the freezing rain, pushing a broken down motorcycle on a trip with his two sons along the Continental Divide Trail is a memory that has become even more precious for one father since his youngest son, Léon Roach III, died Sunday.

The trip was just one of the family’s usual summer adventures, but looking back on the journey across the more than 2,500 mile trail, Léon Roach II remembers when his son grabbed him as they made their way along in the miserable conditions and said, “You’re my hero.”

The trip was the men’s last great summer adventure before Léon Roach III died in a freak pole vaulting accident. The memory of their motorcycle trip is helping him keep going in the aftermath of the accident, Léon Roach II said.

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“I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to do this horrible trip that no sane person would do,” he said. “It was a treasure and that’s really sustaining me.”

The Huntington Beach family is preparing to celebrate the life of its youngest member at a memorial at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Waterfront Hilton in Huntington Beach. The 19-year-old was pole vaunting at an informal practice Sept. 3 at UC San Diego when he hit his head, his sister Christyn Hendrick said.

School hadn’t started yet, but the college student didn’t want to go a whole summer without practicing. Using spotters and mats, he was doing a rope swing drill when he landed and his head missed the mat, Hendrick said. His shoulders and head hit the concrete, causing blunt injury to his head — the cause of death, according to a release from the San Diego County Medical Examiner.

Léon Roach III remained technically alive until Sunday when he was declared officially brain dead. The family said he was gone instantly.

“We knew he was gone. We knew he was in heaven. This was just a shell,” Hendrick said.

The severity of the accident is unusual for the sport, his father said. Léon Roach II, a pole vaulter himself, said his son had hit his head many times — not uncommon in the sport. The family doesn’t want this to effect the sport and are trying to remain positive, he said.

“My wife said he pole vaulted right into heaven,” he said.

The athlete had a strong Christian faith that he brought into every aspect of his life, Hendrick said. Léon Roach III was studying to be a neurologist and loved science.

The family made the decision together to donate his organs and has already received calls saying Léon Roach III has saved lives and families, his father said.

The family said he had integrity, a strong sense of right and wrong and a maturity beyond his years. While his father said he was the greatest, they are just starting to realize the full impact Léon Roach III made on others.

“I didn’t realize he had touched so many lives,” his father said. “There is just a lot of people that we didn’t even know he had touched.”


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