Pole Vaulter Died Doing What He Loved

The UC San Diego pole vaulter who died after hitting his head during practice followed family tradition by becoming a pole vaulter and died doing what he loved, his sister said Monday.

Leon Roach, 19, fell and hit his head on a cement floor Thursday during a practice drill on a rope swing at the La Jolla campus. He died at a hospital Saturday afternoon.

"There were two spotters, and they had mats," said his sister, Christyn Hendrick of Huntington Beach. "It was just the upper half of his body that didn't make it. His head hit the ground, and he went straight to heaven. The doctors said he was gone instantly because of the brain damage."

Hendrick, 27, said her family takes comfort in the fact that Roach went peacefully and died doing what he loved. His organs were donated, according to his wishes.

She added that the family doesn't blame anyone for the accident. Pole vaulting ---- like motorcycle touring, horseback riding and other activities Roach and his close-knit family enjoyed ---- carries inherent risks, Hendrick said.

Roach's father was a pole vaulter, and his older brother made it to state finals in high school.

"It's not something where you think you might die every time you go up to vault. We don't live our lives scared to do things like that," she said. "This is the normal risk of everyday life. We each have so many days, and the Lord decided that was his time."

Roach and his brother Curtis Hendrick had the same personal best height of 15 feet, 4 inches, Marina High track coach Dick Degen told the Orange County Register.

Degen choked up remembering his former student. He said Roach was a scholar-athlete who wanted to be a neurologist.

"He was a very driven athlete. You could see that from the first day," Degen said.

The San Diego County medical examiner's office said an autopsy would determine the cause of death.

UC San Diego chancellor Marye Anne Fox and athletic director Earl Edwards issued a joint statement Friday.

"Words cannot begin to express our sorrow," the statement said. "Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this remarkable student and valued member of the UC San Diego community."

University officials were not available for further comment Monday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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