Jessica Lewis' first event is the 100m on Sunday at 4:58pm. *Photo supplied
Jessica Lewis' first event is the 100m on Sunday at 4:58pm. *Photo supplied

The London Paralympics have started and Bermuda’s lone athlete, Jessica Lewis, swings into action on Sunday when she makes her Games debut in the 100m. She is Bermuda’s first ever wheelchair track athlete. The former Saltus student, 19, has realistic expectations on how well she will do as she competes in the 100m, 200m and 400m.

The Brock University student spoke with Don Burgess about what she expects out of the London competition.

How old were you when you first started racing?

I was 13.  Since the age of five, I’ve always been involved in sports. I used to go to Windreach where I started horseback riding. From there I got involved with both wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball.

In 2006 Windreach had an expo and brought in athletes from away, that included Curtis Thom and Ken Thom, who is my coach now, where they introduced me to track. I didn’t start track though until 2008. I didn’t get my racing chair until 2010 and that’s when I really started to get serious about track.

What do you enjoy about track?

I like it because it shows that people with disabilities can do these things. It gives me a sense of identity; it gives me a purpose to go out and show what we can do. I enjoy the sport and I like going fast. I like being able to improve and seeing the progress I’ve made.

This has really opened me up as a person and given me an opportunity to make a lot of friends who have similar disabilities to me and just motivate each other.

When did you believe you might be a good enough to be a Paralympian some day?

In 2008, the Bermuda Paralympic Association — which I am very grateful for —, they sent three of Bermuda’s athletes to Beijing Paralympics to watch. I was sitting there and seeing how amazing this was. I was wanting to get into a sport I could excel in, but it was after watching the Paralympics that I decided that I wanted to get into track.

When I started university, I chose one that was close to my coach Ken. On the weekends, I stay with him and his wife Karen, and I am very grateful to them as well as they have taken me under their wings. I’m not just an athlete, I’m like a second daughter. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Ken and Karen.

Besides the competition, what are you most looking forward to from these Games?

The whole experience. Seeing the other athletes and the higher levels of completion. Just being in the stadium and all those people — there will be like 15,000 more people in the stadium than what Bermuda has as its population. That’s just amazing.

Will going to Beijing to watch, help you at all in not being overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all in London?

I think I will still be overwhelmed as I will be on the other side. All those people will be looking at me, like I was looking at the athletes in Beijing. I am now the athlete that 80,000 people are going to be looking at.

What does it mean to you to be a trailblazer as Bermuda’s first wheelchair athlete in track?

It’s such an honour to be able to represent my country at such a high level and be the first one. I want to show people that there are other athletes besides able-bodied. We train just as hard and we can excel just as well at different sports. I hope that motivates other people with disabilities to believe they can compete. They don’t have to give up on their dreams and that they can dream just as big as anybody else can. It’s not just dreaming though because they can succeed if they put the work in.

Which one is your best event?

Right now it’s the 200m.

How well do you hope to do?

I’m really glad to be in London, but I know a few of the people I am competing against and they are very tough competition. I’ve only really been racing for two years. I’m going to be up against people who have been doing this for 14 or 15 plus years. I’m hoping to stick with them the best that I can and see what happens. I’m not focused on what I am going to place or what time I am going to get, I am focused on going there and doing what I’ve learned in training. I am going to go out there and show them what I’ve got.