CONNECTICUT — A gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University died Sunday after sustaining an injury while training last Friday.
Melanie Coleman fell during a “routine training exercise” on the uneven bars, Ken Sweeten, a spokesman for Southern Connecticut State, told CNN Monday.
“At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Melanie’s family,” the university’s athletic director, Jay Moran, said in a statement. “This has been devastating to her coaches and teammates and we hope to support them in this very difficult time.”
Coleman’s longtime personal coach, Thomas Alberti, called the incident “a complete accident” Monday. “It’s just not something that anybody can process.”
Coleman, 20, was pursuing a degree in nursing. She also taught part-time at Alberti’s gym, New Era Gymnastics.
“I was her full-time coach for 10 years,” Alberti said. “She was always a leader at my gym. She was the leader that everyone looked up to.”
Alberti said Coleman taught gymnastics to all levels of students, from 2-year-olds to 15-year-olds. He described her as dedicated, with a pure love of the sport. “She had a desire to help everyone around her.”
Coleman came from a family of gymnasts. Her mother competed, as did her two older sisters.
“To her, it wasn’t about trying to get a better score,” he said.
“What made her a great gymnast is also what made her a great person,” Alberti added. He said Coleman modeled “love for whatever it is that you’re dreaming about doing, and giving that back to the people around you.”
Jerry Nelson, Southern Connecticut’s recently retired former head gymnastics coach, also praised Coleman’s commitment to others.
“Melanie was an extraordinary young lady that positively touched all that knew her,” Nelson said in a statement. “Melanie was a true team player, a hard worker, and a true pleasure to coach. I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to coach her.”
In its statement Monday, the university directed the public to a GoFundMe page created over the weekend to raise money for Coleman’s family. The website raised more than $45,000 from nearly 1,000 donors as of Monday evening.