West Point cadet Avelino honored alongside USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame Class

A2JC_5536By Jo-Ann Barnas

PITTSBURGH – A photo bearing his likeness was on display outside a ballroom at the Westin Hotel. It was alongside all of the others, six individuals that were being inducted this afternoon into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame — Nastia Liukin, Blaine Wilson, Courtney Kupets, Lisa Wang, Yoshi Hayasaki and Jola Jones.

Andrew Avelino took a seat on a bench in the hallway, just a few feet from the poster that described the West Point cadet as the recipient of the Robert Miller Spirit of the Flame Award.

Spirit and courage are big words, and they’re as personal to Avelino as they are to those who have reached the pinnacle of the sport, be it as a competitor (Liukin, Wilson, Kupets and Wang), coach (Hayaskai) or judge (Jones).

The Spirit of the Flame Award recognizes individuals who demonstrate leadership, strength and determination in extraordinary ways. The award was renamed in 2011 after Staff Sergeant Robert Miller, who received the Medal of Honor after saving fellow soldiers during a 2008 ambush in Afghanistan.

During his freshman year at West Point, Avelino injured his right leg in a freak accident on a trampoline. He hyper-extended his right knee, tearing all of the ligaments and a major artery – an injury that eventually led to Avelino having his lower leg amputated.

Avelino not only returned to his studies at West Point – that was never not an option, he says – but he was determined to compete on his new prosthetic leg.

And that’s exactly what Avelino did. Eventually pommel horse and high bar became his specialties, and when Avelino prepared to make his final dismount of his competitive career for West Point in April on pommel horse, he did so with a supreme sense of purpose and satisfaction.

“It wasn’t a great routine,” he said. “But it felt good to be done. I never stopped believing in myself.”

Avelino was home at his mother’s house in Beaumont, Texas this summer when he learned that he was going to be honored during today’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the P&G Gymnastics Championships. It was his mom who first received the good news.

“I figured it out through my mom screaming, ‘Drew come downstairs!’’’ Avelino said with a laugh.

Avelino will graduate in December. Then second lieutenant Avelino will head to Fort Sill, Okla., for officer training for air defense artillery.

“I hold myself to a different standard,” he said. “I’ve passed the same standards that people with two legs do. When people say, ‘It’s OK; you only have one leg,’ I don’t believe that. I let myself to be pushed.”

Before the luncheon, Avelino had an opportunity to meet the Hall of Famers. Leading the honorees is Liukin, the 2008 Olympic women’s all-around champion.

The others: Hayasaki, longtime University of Illinois men’s gymnastics head coach; Kupets, 2002 world uneven bars champion and two-time Olympic medalist; Wang, three-time U.S. rhythmic gymnastics all-around champion; and Wilson, five-time U.S. champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist. Jones, an acrobatic gymnastics judge and administrator, received a Lifetime Achievement honor.