From the Track & Field to the Television: Meet Two-Time Olympians Jamie and Shevon Nieto
They may both be extremely talented, athletic and two-time Olympians but ironically it wasn’t Track & Field that brought Jamie and Shevon Nieto together. Jamie, a high jumper, represented the United State at the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Games, while Shevon competed on the track for her native Jamaica in 2004 and also Beijing in 2008. The now married couple met at an audition for a commercial and it was their shared passion for entertainment that kept them connected.
While both currently have careers in the industry, their journey has been anything but easy. In 2016, Jamie suffered a freak accident while training Olympic hopefuls where he damaged vertebrae in his neck and became paralyzed. It was unclear if he’d walk again. But fueled with faith, love and a promise, Jamie defied odds and a year later, walked on his wedding day. Shevon turned to music through Jamie’s recovery, leaning into a childhood dream and even released a special song specific to their relationship, Through the Good and the Bad. One that would grab the attention of America’s Got Talent producers. Jamie continued his road to recovery as well as his acting and writing and can be seen in the Netflix series Away, streaming this September.
Risen caught up with the duo, who just welcomed their first child, a baby boy, to hear more about this season of their life. The joy of becoming new parents, the joy of standing on stage and singing an original song, the joy of a new series and the joy of the time together in this very interesting year of 2020.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Where to begin with the two of you because there is so much to cover? So, let’s start with the best… Congratulations on becoming parents! You welcomed your baby boy last month, how are you feeling?
Shevon Nieto: It’s the greatest blessing ever. I feel like there’s nothing better than this, and we’re just really thankful to be able to have this baby, and hold him in our arms. After all Jamie has been through, and we’ve been through in the past few years. It’s just…
Jamie Nieto: It’s just an amazing experience.
RM: I’m sure your nights are sleepless and you’re in awe that there is a third human home with you… but what does it feel like to hold your son and what are you most looking forward to?
JN: I’m just looking forward to seeing all the stages of life, which is very interesting to me. Seeing him as an infant, and as a toddler, just experiencing the journey of parenthood is what I’m really looking forward to.
SN: As far as being a parent, I feel like, wow, we created this little boy, and we get to watch him grow and just the love that we have for him. I feel like he is like my sidekick now. That’s what I feel, because we’re both, Jamie and I, into entertainment, and we have our little one with us. And to me, I feel like as parents, sometimes some parents, they feel like they may have to stop what they’re doing now, it’s about the baby, but I just feel like I have a sidekick, and someone that I’m going to raise and help their dreams to come true, while they’re here by mommy and daddy’s side.
RM: You’re both two-time Olympians in Track & Field, Ironically you were both in Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games but that’s not when you met… share a little bit about your love story.
JN: We both met at an audition. Like Shevon mentioned, we’re both in entertainment, and I think it was a 3D television or something like that, and they wanted athletes to be popping out of the screen. And after I did my audition, as I was walking out, I saw Shevon. I didn’t know her, but I figured I had seen her before, somewhere. I knew she was a track athlete, so I stopped to say “Hi” and chitchat a little bit, but she seemed to be real focused, and I felt like she was giving me the cold shoulder at the time, but turns out she says she was really focused, and she ended up getting a job, and I didn’t. Maybe I should have been a little more focused. [Laughter]
That’s where we first met in 2010, but then two years later in 2012, I was doing a web series and I did a GoFundMe, and was contacting all my friends, and Facebook friends trying to raise money. She donated, and then I saw her later that year at a track meet, and I was like, “Hey, this is where your money went. Check out the trailer that we did.” And she was excited, and then I said, “What meet are you going to next?” And she said, “I’m going to the UCLA meet.” I said, “I’m going to that meet as well, maybe afterwards we can get some lunch.” And we’ve been together ever since.
RM: Shevon, during Jamie’s recovery you were writing and singing songs for him and he urged you to enter America’s Got Talent. This summer you were competing, and doing very well I might add, and you sang an original song you wrote for Jamie… share about that experience.
SN: When Jamie got hurt, I was getting ready for my third Olympic Games. And at that point, everything pretty much stopped, because I wanted to be there at his side to go through this recovery stage. I’ve been doing music and wanted to be a singer since I was eight years old, and I had another path of running track, and I always was singing and hoping for that opportunity, that one day I’ll retire and I’ll pursue my music. But for the very first time, when Jamie got hurt, it was the first time I ever looked at a goal and said, maybe I’m not going to sing, maybe this is not in the cards. I just knew, that at that moment, being there for Jamie was the only thing that I was focused on.
And then probably after a year, Jamie was getting better, we were doing different exercises, and songs started coming into my head, songs like You’re Strong Enough, Fight, and stuff like that. And I started to sing them for Jamie, writing new songs, and I felt like it was healing as well for him. But also for me, because he told me, “you should go into the studio and record them.” And I was like, “You thinks so?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” He really wanted to be there to support me in my dreams, the way I supported him. So I started to record the songs, and we got married in 2017, and I wanted to write a really special song for him and what we’ve been through, which is the Through the Good and the Bad song that I have out right now.
We ended up doing a music video that we released for it in November, and two months later, America’s Got Talent saw my music video and reached out to see if I was interested in auditioning. That’s when I told Jamie – because I couldn’t believe I was receiving this email – and he said, “You’ve got to do it. You have to do it.” So I said, “Okay, I’m going to do it.”
To stand on that stage was just an awesome experience, because to stand on that stage and sing that particular song that was about everything that we’ve been through, it was like we did it. We conquered so much and we did it together, and that was just the best thing. And then I had the little baby on the stage with me, because many people didn’t know, but I was four months pregnant during my performance, but I picked the right dress, so you couldn’t tell. Everything was just pretty amazing, and we’re just both really thankful for just the opportunity and really just having each other, because honestly, if we didn’t have each other, then none of this would’ve been possible.
RM: Jamie, what did you think when you saw your wife on the stage fulfilling part of her childhood dream?
JN: I was really excited. I was very proud. It was just a really surreal and proud moment for me. I was so happy that she was up there, because for me, when she stopped running in 2016 to take care of me, I felt bad, because she ended up having to let go of this dream to help me out. And whatever else she wanted to do in life, I wanted to be able to encourage her, to be able to do that. So to see her doing that just made me so, so happy and so, so proud, and I couldn’t wish for anything more.
RM: Jamie, since before you retired from athletics, before the accident, before marriage and family, you were also acting… talk to me about this passion and how it’s developed.
JN: I always felt like I wanted to get into entertainment somehow, even as a kid, but I didn’t want anybody to discourage me, so I kept it hidden. In 2004, after I made my first Olympic team, I thought, you know what, a lot of people told me that I wouldn’t make the Olympic team, what makes me think that I can’t become an actor or get it into entertainment? And so, I started thinking more about it. Then 2008, I missed out on making the Olympic team, and that’s when I took my first acting class, and I just fell in love with it. I started acting and writing at the same time. I took classes from 2008 to 2013, so it was about five years.
It’s just been really fun. I felt very fortunate and blessed to be able to find another passion, because a lot of athletes don’t get that opportunity. A lot of athletes can’t find another passion, they don’t know what else to do, and they just end up lingering in the sport. I was very happy that and blessed that I was able to find something else.
RM: Now you can be see in AWAY, on Netflix, starring Hilary Swank as an astronaut leading an international mission to Mars. Share about your character and experience working on the series.
JN: I play a bronco rider, Travis Parker, that got thrown off of his horse and paralyzed. He ends up meeting Josh Charles’ character in the hospital, and tries to encourage him saying, look, you need to stay in the hospital for as long as you can, so you can get better, because once you get out, things get a lot tougher on your own. We spark up a friendship within the series, and it just became a beautiful thing. To work on such an amazing project with super talented actors, you can’t ask for anything more. It’s almost like competing at the highest level in track and field.
RM: I feel like this series is so relatable – especially to you with the sacrifices needed to achieve an incredible goal, the weight of being a hero for your country, the physical rehabilitation, and then then the most unpredictable to 2020 with the ability for every viewer to better understand isolation and connecting to loved ones through technology – what impacted you most about?
JN: That’s a really good question. I’m happy that I was able to represent actors who aren’t fully able, actors who are in wheelchairs. They actually have other actors in the series that aren’t as able as well. So I think representing all aspects of life is always a great thing. People in our community are very underrepresented. I think it’s very noble and very honorable for them to do that, to be able to create these roles for these people and for me, was awesome. So that’s one of the things that I’m really happy and proud about.
I think the story is definitely relatable when it comes to family and having to be able to reach out in a tough time, like as with the pandemic. We just had a baby, so it’s really relatable to us. We really can’t see anybody other than through FaceTime. It’s very important that people stay in contact with friends and family, and I think, like you said, everything’s just translates to what’s going on now.
RM: Your faith and walk with God I’m sure has been a journey, what does it look like in your lives now?
JN: It’s just as strong as ever. We always keep God first. We stay praying, we stay reading the Bible, and counting our blessings. The biggest blessing right now is just being able to be here to spend time with each other, our brand new baby and to be happy with each other and enjoy this time together. That is so important. And I know that sooner or later, we will all make it through this, and hopefully the world will be a better place.
RM: With continued quarantine, distance learning, unemployed soaring… they have been a lot of missed expectations this year. Both of you have experienced that firsthand on several levels – Jamie with your injury, Shevon as you mentioned not going to the 2016 Olympics or even having to not finish out America’s Got Talent. What advice would you share with someone who is feeling overwhelmed, or possibly devastated, by this world pandemic?
SN: Definitely. During these times, just as the song I wrote says, Through the Good and Bad. Jamie and I, we’ve been through some tough times, some good times, but we always feel like those tough times make us stronger people. When Jamie got injured, I knew that this road ahead was going to be very challenging and one of the hardest things that we’ve ever had to face. You have to be prepared for that, and ready for that. And then, great things can happen because you really see how strong you really are. You really see the love that you have between the people that you’re with and who’s there for you or not. And right now, we’re going through a state where, the country, the world is in a place where it’s a challenging time for everyone, financially, relationships, being inside, a lot of different losses that are going on, and I think it’s one of those times where it’s a tough time, and it’s not going to be easy, and you might have to downsize, a lot of things might happen with loss of jobs, but I just think it’s something where we have to all just come together as one and be there for each other. As friends and family, and as a nation so that we can get through the pandemic and everything that’s going on right now. The only reason how Jamie and I were able to get through is because we stuck together through the tough times. And yes, it was very, very challenging, just like it’s very challenging for families now, but this is a time when we need to come together, help each other out, be there and support, and just hold each other’s hand because we will get over this.
RM: I know that you just had the baby, but are you writing during this time? Lullabies perhaps?
SN: Oh yes. I’ve been writing a lot, and I sing a lot of little songs to the baby that I tend to write. Making up a new song to sing to him. I plan on releasing a new song pretty soon, which I’m really excited about. Absolutely, I’m looking forward to my music and I’m always writing.
RM: And Jamie, I’m sure that acting and continuing to be involved with the film and television is definitely your future path too?
JN: Yeah, acting, writing. I’ve been writing for a production company called Harvest Studios, and they have two television shows, one called Family Time and another In The Cut. They’re both sitcoms. One’s a family sitcom, and one is a barbershop sitcom. I write on the show, write episodes for them, so that’s my main staple. And then, as auditions and different opportunities come up, then I do those as well.
RM: You both had huge athletic careers, and then both of your transitioned to second careers, ironically in the entertainment industry. How do you lean on each other and keep encouragement the focus, rather than letting envy rear its head like it has for so many other spouses that are in the same careers?
SN: Yeah, you know what? That was one of the things that attracted me to Jamie. When he was doing his GoFundMe to do his web series, I saw this athlete and thought, wow, look at this athlete doing something outside of track and field and doing it really, really well. I was like, wow, that was very attractive to me. That led us together. And with us both being athletes and going into entertainment, I think it’s really important to encourage and support each other, and that’s what Jamie did for me. He was definitely super encouraging to me and always gave me great advice, even when I was competing.And now in entertainment, he’s still by my side, and my biggest supporter with my music. I definitely feel that we support each other, love each other and we want each other to do very well.
JN: For me, I feel like we’re a team. When she wins, I win, or We win.I think having that sports background behind us keeps things in better perspective.
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