Jessica Heims

Disability (if applicable): Right below-knee amputee

City, State, School: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Prairie High School

What are some successes you have had participating in your sport? I have been able to have many successes in track, some small and some rather large. At first, it was a great success to just be able to compete on my middle school track team and run along with the other kids and my able bodied friends. I competed at junior disabled track meets when I was in my early middle school years, and soon became very competitive, leading to some of my biggest successes, such as competing at the Jr. IWAS Worlds Games in both Puerto Rico and England for two years in a row. In 2015, I made Team USA for track and field and competed in my first Paralympic Worlds in Doha, Qatar. Being able to travel to such a major competition so early in my running career was major for me, in fact I’m still recovering from the runners-high from even being over there with so many athletes from all around the world. I placed 5th in both of my events, the 400 and the discus, and received personal bests in both as well.

Did you experience any challenges? My major challenge has simply been trying to figure out how to train and compete with my able bodied teammates at my high school. Since there are no disabled track teams in my area, all of my training is with able bodied athletes. There will be days where the workout has too rigorous of movement for my leg to handle, or my prosthetic will not fit well enough for me to run without pain. Along the years I have learned that I am the person who knows what’s best for me, and I have had to try and (against my stubbornness) figure out when I need to step back and accept that some things will not work. Whenever that happens, I will find something else to do instead, such as replacing one sort of agility exercise with a weight room lift that works best for my body. It has also been a challenge mentally to figure out how to compete against able bodied. It can be frustrating at times, but I try to funnel any anxiety I have about it into my training, knowing that it’ll pay off when I can beat my competitors in a race and improve upon my personal times. 

What first steps did you take to get involved in your sport? I started running when I was 10, and mostly by accompanying my mom as she worked out, or with my younger sister. My family signed up for 5ks in the area, which helped me find my love and passion for running, without being too directly competitive with other people. My mom then signed my sister and up for a local youth track club, where I was able to be more competitive, which lead me to run at the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma, an all-age track meet for people with disabilities. This was my first opening to disabled sports, and after this meet I signed up to run at more disables competitions, as well as continue with able bodied track, all through middle school and up currently to high school.

What advice would you give to anyone with a disability who wants to participate in sports? I understand to new disabled athletes that joining a sport could be scary, or uncertain, but my best advice would be to just give it a go, and see where it leads you. It is best to first find a passion and love for the sport and to enjoy it. I would suggest looking for any group in your surrounding area that hosts disabled sports teams or games. There are more out there than you’d realize. And if there aren’t any disabled groups in the area, there are always able-bodied groups more than willing to add a new member. Give it a go, you’ll surprise yourself.

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