Neni Lewis awaits surgery on March 30, hoping to avert paralysis

Neni Lewis is master of all throws.

Masters Hall of Famer Neni Lewis easily is the greatest age-group thrower in history, especially in the hammer and weight. But her injury riddled career has suffered yet another blow. “I am out for the year and hopefully not out for good,” she wrote me this week.  “It has been suggested that I may have to find something else to do. We will see.  I may have to whip out my old spikes & become a sprinter again.” What pluck and humor. But her latest setback is serious. “I had a nasty fall off a ladder back in December and hurt my back and hip,” Neni writes. “I took some time off to heal and I competed at the Masters Eastern Regionals in Providence, RI, on January 29, broke the world record for the weight throw and did well in the shotput and super weight, considering that I did not get a chance to practice that much.”

But after each throw, she said, “I would get a terrible sensation (magnify the feeling when your hand goes to sleep at least three times) throughout my entire body and especially my left hand, but I tried to ignore it.”

She continued:

The numbness and tingling continued in my left hand and especially this electrical feeling throughout my body that was paralyzing and made it difficult to walk when I threw the weight.  I thought the difficulty to walk and electrical feeling was from the lower lumbar spinal stenosis.  

But when the numbness occurred while I was lying down, trying to sleep, and going down my arms, across my chest and abdomen, it was downright scary.  I was getting worse. I can’t touch anything with my left hand and sometimes certain movements with my right arm triggers a paralyzing sensation and I cannot move for a few minutes.  

I consulted with a neurologist, who ordered an MRI of my cervical spine.  An hour after my MRI, my neurologist called me up and said I had to find a neurosurgeon.  I have a few bulging discs that are pressing into my spine and hitting the nerves.  On a follow-up visit a few days later, he asked when was my surgery as scheduled.  The neurosurgeons he recommended were not available until April and May.  He advised that I need to find a neurosurgeon fast as I am at risk at being paralyzed if I should have another fall or make the wrong move.  I have to wear a neck brace for now until my surgery.  My neurosurgeon was a track athlete who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.  

My surgeon told the other doctors about my participating in masters track & field and now they want to interview me and possibly do a case study on me.  

So now I am scheduled for the removal of a section of my cervical spine March 30.  I am wearing a neck brace for now for protection until the surgery.  

I was looking forward to the indoor nationals, but for now I will have to pass.  I wish everyone good luck at the nationals and to stay healthy.

Neni in 2010 was named USATF Masters Athlete of the Year, and she holds too many records to list. So her season loss is huge. But more important is her health over time. And she has been the Comeback Kid many times over the years.

As noted in a June 2008 post:

Lewis qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1980, 1984 and 1988 in the shot put. Her best chance to make the team was in 1988, when she was throwing close to 60 feet leading up to the trials. But her bid was cut short when a car accident injured her hip and back. …

“She is the best,” [Roz] Katz said. “She’s a world record holder in several events and an American record holder in lots of events for a reason. She’s just really good.”

Stay focused on recovery, Neni (pronounced knee-knee). We’ll keep the ring warm, fast and dry for you.

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March 16, 2012

11 Responses

  1. John Seto - March 16, 2012

    Recover quickly Neni. We will miss seeing you this year (especially Charlee, your number 1 fan!).

  2. Joe Kessell - March 16, 2012


    I wish you nothing but good thoughts and prayers to my friend.

    Just do what the doctors say and get better.

    God Bless!

  3. al cestero - March 16, 2012

    you will be in our prayers…

  4. Nolan Shaheed - March 16, 2012

    I wish you the best Neni and hope to see you soon in the arena we love.

  5. Susan Wiemer - March 16, 2012

    Wow, Neni,
    I am so sorry. You are in my thoughts and I hope for the best for you. Your excellent technique and composed demeanor during competition inspire me! I had to miss Nationals due to health problems as well. May we both be back in action soon.

  6. Patrick Toland - March 16, 2012

    Best wishes Neni – Hoping for a speedy recovery and hope to see you in the ring again!

  7. peter van aken - March 16, 2012

    Neni, how can we replace you? Since WE CAN’T, you’ll just have to recover and resume your outstanding performances. We all hope for the best for your life, whatever form it takes.

  8. Linn Dunton - March 17, 2012

    I am so sorry to hear about your injury and upcoming surgery. You are an incredible athlete with a positive attitude in the midst of great adversity. I had a spinal fusion at age 15 and I was never supposed to throw again. Here I am and doing great. I believe you will be back out here again showing us all how to throw like a champion!
    Best of luck with the surgery and recovery!
    Linn Dunton

  9. Neni - March 17, 2012

    Thanks to everyone for your best wishes and words of encouragement. Although this is a tough challenge, I am up for it. I hope to be back in the ring soon, hardware and all and to see everyone out there doing what we all enjoy doing, track and field. Best of luck to everyone and good health.

  10. George Mathews - March 18, 2012

    Neni, all the best in your challenge. I know all our St Johns alums and fellow throwers are praying for your successful operation and recovery. You will be back in the circle.
    George Mathews

  11. Robin Hanson - March 18, 2012

    May the Goddess bless you and guide you through your surgery and recovery.

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