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Dave Selvig / Forum Communications Co., Published January 12 2011

Coaches don't doubt chances that Jamestown College senior can recover from paralysis

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – Doctors have told James Vollmer his chances of walking again are slim.

But the Jamestown College two-sport standout has spent much of his life overcoming long odds, and the coaches who know him best are unanimous in their opinion: Don’t ever bet against James Vollmer.

“James is one of those guys that someday I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him in the Boston Marathon in one of those wheelchair deals,” JC football coach Bud Etzold said. “Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him beat the odds and be on his feet one day, either.

“James Vollmer is one of those kids you wouldn’t ever bet against.”

Vollmer was seriously injured in a pole-vaulting accident Dec. 1 at the Larson Center, preparing for the upcoming indoor track and field season. While attempting a vault, he missed the landing mat and fell 15 feet, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Vollmer was airlifted from Jamestown Hospital to Sanford Health in Fargo, where he underwent four hours of emergency spinal surgery and had an 18-inch rod inserted into his back to stabilize the spine.

Doctors have said he has just a 5 percent chance of walking again.

Jamestown College will hold a benefit for Vollmer and his family during the Jimmies’ basketball doubleheader against Valley City State on Thursday night at Jamestown Civic Center to help defray the mounting medical expenses.

He’s currently at the Craig Institute in Denver, which specializes in traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries. The current program he is in was supposed to last 12 weeks, but Vollmer expects to complete it in 10, which does not surprise any of his coaches.

“James was a very talented two-sport athlete for us, and to do that you have to be driven and committed to that task and he certainly was that,” JC men’s track and field coach Ed Crawford said. “There’s no doubt his life has changed. He was dealt a serious blow, but James is such a positive and confident kid. He’s really focused on moving ahead with his life.

“He’s a special kid.”

Vollmer was known for doing whatever the team needed.

In football, he played cornerback for the Jimmies and made a major impact. This past season he made 36 tackles, 4 of them for loss.

In track, pole-vaulting was his first love. In fact Crawford said, “Nobody in our program knew more about pole vaulting than James.”

But he was also more than willing to fill in wherever needed.

“He was all about what he could do for the team,” JC women’s track and field coach Jim Clark said. “He loved the pole vault, but if you needed someone to long jump, triple jump or high jump to help the team score some more points he would gladly do that.

“He was confident in everything he did and he pretty much excelled. He was an excellent kid to have on the team because it wasn’t about him. It was about what he could do to help the Jimmies.”

Vollmer, a Rapid City, S.D., native came to Jamestown College in 2007. He is just two classes short of finishing his degree in radiology technology. He plans to return to school here next fall, which surprises nobody. His story has already inspired many and brought the close-knit Jamestown College together.

“Things like this galvanize a community, and a big part of that is the type of approach and outlook James has put on his situation,” Etzold said. “The way he’s attacking this challenge is awe inspiring.”


Selvig is the sports editor for The Jamestown Sun