While I was home in Bermuda at the end of August before returning to Brock to start my fifth year my amazing cousin Douglas and the rest of the incredible staff at RED steakhouse hosted a fundraiser for me to help me get to World Championships in October. We called it my “Gold Medal Gala!” My coach Ken came down to Bermuda for the weekend as well, which was great to have him there! It was a fantastic night and I am so thankful to Douglas and RED for supporting me and putting that on for me!! Also, thanks to everyone that came out to it to support me or still supported me if they couldn’t attend. I was certainly overwhelmed (in a good way :)) with the amount of support I received that night and the past couple of weeks.
Here is the speech I gave that night:
“Good evening everyone and thank you so much for coming out tonight. I feel very lucky to be able to sit in this room and look around at everyone here supporting me and this crazy amazing and wonderful journey I am on. It all started in 2006 when WindReach Bermuda held a sports expo and brought down athletes and coaches from the states and Canada. This was the first time I met my incredible Coach Ken Thom and his son Curtis when they introduced me to track racing. I still remember the first time I was in a track chair. After 1 lap I was completely exhausted and had no idea that that moment would lead me to 9 years later sitting here being a Paralympian, ParaPan American Games Gold Medalist and games record holder.
At that point in time I was still participating in many other different sports like swimming, horseback riding, basketball and tennis so wasn’t really concentrating on track. I would still take part in it but mainly for recreation. It wasn’t until 2008 when the Bermuda Paralympic Association sent me and 2 others to Beijing to be spectators at the 2008 Paralympic Games that I wanted to pick one sport and concentrate on it and get to a Paralympic Games. I decided on track mainly because it was an individual sport so I could represent Bermuda and because I liked the speed!! Sitting in the stands in Beijing I knew that I wanted to be in London but down on the track not sitting in the stands. I ended up getting my own chair in 2010, which my grandparents otherwise known as super bragging granny and my number 1 fan poppy bought for me. Since I was still in high school, I would travel to Canada on my school breaks to train with Ken and while I was home Gerry Swan was amazing enough to step up to the challenge to coach me and work alongside Ken.
I still remember the first time I trained in Ken’s garage and I thought holy crap this is insane!! I definitely found out why the other athletes called it Ken’s hells garage!! My first race was in Tampa, Florida in 2010 at the Dixie Games. I was so nervous, excited and happy to be out on the track to see how I kept up with the other athletes…needless to say they blew me away but I was still so excited to be out there. From that point I was even more determined to work hard in this sport and put everything I have into it. When I started Brock university in 2011 I started training under Ken full time. I train at Brock during the week lifting weights in the gym 3 days a week. I also have a roller in my residence where I train in my track chair. On Fridays I travel 1.5 hours to Ken’s house to train with him and his other athletes, Curtis, Mike, Isaiah and Austin on Saturday and Sunday. When I started at Brock I got a tour of the gym and information about getting a personal trainer from a guy named Scott Frendo-Cumbo, a trainer at the gym. After the tour Scott specifically asked his manager to be my trainer. He was my trainer for my first two years at Brock and then Chris Anderi, who was equally as awesome, was my trainer for the next two years. They have both graduated now so I will be getting a new trainer this year.
Qualifying for and competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games was an amazing experience. I qualified in the 200m event first at the desert challenge games in Arizona and finding out about it I could remember me sitting in the bird’s nest stadium in Beijing 4 years prior saying I was going to be in London and I had done it. I actually qualified for the 100 meters for London on the warm up track we used for Parapan am!
After London I continued training and traveling to different competitions around the world. I was steadily improving and it came to a point at the end of last year that we started to discuss getting me a new track chair with new seating mainly going from an upholstery seat to a hard panel because I was able to add more power to each of my strokes. I was loosing some power because I would move in my seat whereas in a hard panel I don’t move. The incredible staff of Tokio Millennium Re, my amazing
sponsor for the past 2 years, raised the money to buy me a new track chair and I thank them so much for that and for believing in me. This began the 2015 racing season and the era of the “Pink Panter” which is what I have named the chair!! This racing season has been absolutely incredible and I am now running with the big names in my classification and have got a lot of people talking about me. I am no longer just the little one from Bermuda - I am now the little one from Bermuda who is competition. I am still working on the longer distances but have certainly put my name out there for the sprints. My coach and I have decided to focus on establishing dominance in the 100m and 200m races this year with the 400m and 800m races being my bonus ones and working at those this off season to improve for next racing season. We plan to work and work the plan, right coach?!
Heading into the 100m final at the ParaPan American games knowing I was going into it with the fastest time gave me so much confidence and all I could focus on was having the fast start I have been having all racing season, the 20m mark where coach Ken and I decided we wanted the race to be over by and the finish line and having the desire to come across it first. We had a false start gun go off and it was definitely nerve racking to see who would be charged with a false start, well for my coach and family that is, I was confident it wasn’t me!! I think Ken’s mouth definitely got a workout from chewing on his gum so much because of the nerves!! It turned out that nobody was charged with a false start so we were all safe to be in the race still. We had to shake that off and the extra nerves that came along with it. As the race started again I just focused on pushing as hard and as fast as I could and as I crossed that 20m mark I was ahead so I just put my head down and powered to the finish line. I know that even though Poppy wasn't there physically in the stands yelling go jessicer he was there in spirit sitting on my shoulders with his London 2012 Paralympic Games hat on and his stopwatch in his hand. It was an incredible feeling to know that I had not only won the Gold but got the ParaPan American Games 100m record, which was previously held by the mentor Anjali Forber-Pratt. It is a true honor to have the record after her. It was also amazing to know that this was the first medal won by a para-athlete in Bermuda. I feel very honored to be able to do that for Bermuda.
Now I refocus and look forward to heading to my last competition in the 2015 racing season, World Championships, in Qatar in October. Winning the gold medal at the ParaPan Am games gives me so much confidence and belief in myself going into worlds and I can’t wait to continue this success right to the end of this incredible season. I am looking forward to ending this season on a high note so that I can go into the 2016 year with even more determination to take me right to the 2016 Rio Paralympics in September, where I have achieved the A qualifying standard in the 100 and 400 and the B in the 800.
So, thank you to my coach Ken for all that he does for me on and off the track, his family for accepting me as part of theirs, my family for all their support and encouragement and for being at the games to witness my races, my cousin Douglas part owner of Red for wanting to do and planning this night for me, my friends for all their support, my teammates for pushing me to get better and better and supporting me, WindReach for getting me involved in sports, Bermuda Paralympic Association for all their support and encouragement especially Ann and Jeni for staying on top of all the emails sent by the IPC, Scott and Chris for meeting me 3 days a week in the gym religiously, Earl Basden for his amazing loyal support and news coverage to help get awareness of para-sport out to Bermuda, to BHS for allowing my mom to take time off work so she can travel with me, my incredible sponsors Tokio Millennium Re for helping me chase my dreams and the staff at Tokio Millennium Re for raising the funds for the pink panther, and to all of you here tonight and the rest of my support team for coming along with me on this journey! I couldn’t do this without you! This is just the beginning!! Thank you!!”
My coach also spoke at the event about what it takes to be an elite athlete. His presentation was fantastic and really opened up a lot of eyes about the amount of work that goes into being an elite level athlete.
- Desire, Dream, Vision -