Kalon Ludvigson

Kalon Ludvigson is the USA’s most decorated tumbling athlete. He suffered a serious spinal injury in 2013 that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He was the keynote speaker at the Idaho State Journal’s Sports Stars awards held at the Stephens Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.

POCATELLO — Pocatello resident Kalon Ludvigson knows what it means to persevere.

The most decorated U.S. athlete in trampoline and tumbling history was paralyzed from the chest down in 2013 after he suffered a C6 spinal cord injury at a gymnastics camp in Pennsylvania. But he hasn’t let that stop him from going after his dreams.

He shared his story during the Idaho State Journal’s Sports Stars awards held at the Stephens Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night and has been able to speak at similar events throughout East Idaho recently.

“I was really honored and excited to do it,” Ludvigson said, adding that he’s been an athlete for most of his life and could easily relate to those he addressed.

Ludvigson started tumbling when he was 8 years old and had become the youngest member of Team USA by the time he was 16.

Ludvigson, who never lost a U.S. competition, holds 20 World Cup and World Championship medals, including two world records. But perhaps his greatest achievement has been his ability to keep moving forward in the face of life-changing adversity.

Although he’s wheelchair bound, Ludvigson still goes to the gym five days a week to stay active and strengthen his body.

“I’m working with what I’ve got,” he said, adding that conditioning was always his favorite part of training.

He’s also served as a volunteer coach in recent years and is now busy pursuing a career in pharmacy — something he planned to do even before he was injured. Ludvigson is currently a graduate student at Idaho State University and is close to earning his Ph.D.

Although he’s no longer tumbling, Ludvigson believes his gymnastics career has helped him as he’s transitioned from athletics to academics and beyond.

He said sports taught him how to work hard, use his time well and be self-disciplined — skills that have been important in his studies.

Ludvigson has learned to push himself and be passionate about whatever he’s doing, and he encourages the athletes he’s addressed recently to do the same.

Ludvigson advises them to work hard and not let obstacles, which will undoubtedly come, get in their way. He says most everything can be accomplished with passion, hard work and perseverance.

“Any situation people get into, whether it be a bad practice, losing a game or (going through) a dramatic life changing experience like I did, persevere,” Ludvigson said. “Continue to push yourself. Keep your goals within reach and work to pursue those.”