PHOENIX, Arizona, August 14. MELISSA Belote Ripley shed tears of joy Monday when she was informed that the three Olympic gold medals she lost in a robbery in 2010 would be replaced.
Belote Ripley, a 1972 and 1976 Olympian, learned of the news to replace her medals Monday during a seemingly routine announcement with her Rio Salado Swim Club that the team would be getting defibrillators installed on-deck, thanks to the American Foundation of Cardiomyopathy. Mike Middleton, a member of the Phoenix-based AFC, told Belote Ripley he would be part of the effort to get the medals replaced. Phoenix TV station Fox 10 was there to document the surprise announcement.
Belote Ripley's medals (gold in the 100 back, 200 back and 400 medley relay in 1976) were stolen in February 2010 from her home. She usually keeps them in a bank vault but had them out for a special event.
Belote Ripley still holds out hope that her original medals will be recovered and returned to her, but is thrilled by Middleton's gesture.
“It means a tremendous amount to me,” Belote Ripley said.
Middleton told Swimming World that the American Foundation of Cardiomyopathy, based in Phoenix, will pay for most of the cost to replace the medals, which could amount to as much as $2,000. Belote Ripley's husband has also been secretly working on raising money to pay for the replacements, so that will help as well.
It takes about four months to replace Olympic medals, Middleton said. He plans to present Belote Ripley with her new medals at a swim meet in March.
Belote Ripley is an honorary director of the American Foundation of Cardiomyopathy, and Middleton has known the Olympian for about eight years, since his daughter is coached by Belote Ripley. Once he heard of the robbery and the toll the loss was taking on Belote Ripley, he told Anthony Miller, a co-founder of the foundation, that replacing the medals was an urgent matter.
“It's very impressive for a coach to be able to show that to her swimmers,” Middleton said. “Everybody wants to see that happen.”
The American Foundation of Cardiomyopathy is working in the Phoenix area to bring awareness to schools, athletic facilities and other places where kids are active about cardiomyopathy, better known as sudden cardiac arrest. It is the top killer of children and athletes under the age of 35, according to the AFC, and can be prevented if a defibrillator is nearby and used within the first five minutes of the attack. Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer was diagnosed with a form of cardiomyopathy, and had to carry a defibrillator with her at all times in her teenage years. It is believed that Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen died from sudden cardiac arrest on April 30.
Defibrillators are not as prevalent at athletic facilities as Miller would like, but the AFC is helping institutions get defibrillators where needed through a sweepstakes and donations.
The defibrillator donation to the Rio Salado Swim team means those kids at risk for sudden cardiac arrest will have a greater chance of seeing Belote Ripley cry more tears of joy in March when she holds her replacement medals.
“To see her get her medals back will be great for them to see,” Miller said. “And it will inspire them to do great things in their lives.”