November 9, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity through your columns, to publicly express thanks to many important people in my life.
My name is Jessica Cooper Lewis and I am an 18-year-old born-and-bred Bermudian. I am a Para-Athlete training to qualify in Wheelchair Track Racing for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
I am currently preparing to leave for my first big International race at the Para Pan American Games in Guadalajara Mexico this month. I will be making history at this event as I am the first Para-Athlete that Bermuda has ever sent to the games. I have qualified to compete in the 100m, 200m and 400m races. I will represent Bermuda with pride as I carry the flag in the opening ceremony and compete with many international athletes.
Sports have always played a big role in my life and they have helped me accept myself and accept that having a disability doesn't mean I can't do anything. I have never let my disability stop me from achieving my goals.
I just want to thank everyone who has helped me along my sporting journey and gotten me to this point.
First, I would like to thank Jackie Rayner who taught me how to swim at the age of two. This was my first introduction to sport and I am so thankful for it. Secondly I would like to thank both my high schools — Bermuda High School and Saltus Grammar School — for treating me like everyone else by overlooking my disability. I also thank Peter Dunne who allowed me to join the after-school running club that Bermuda High School offered, and that he was in charge of. Thanks to all the volunteers and workers at WindReach Bermuda who took me under their wings at the age of five and gave me the opportunity to try different sports. A special thank you goes to Sandy Mitchell, the founder of WindReach Bermuda and his assistant Paul Sullivan for encouraging me and always believing in me. They helped me feel like I belonged and they saw me as a person, not as someone with a disability. I started horseback riding at the age of five under the command of Moyra Benbow and Kate Terceira. I have grown up with WindReach Bermuda and at the age of 11 the Adaptive Sports Programme was developed and I started to play other sports such as wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. I would like to thank the Adaptive Sports coordinator Tammalita Astwood for developing this programme and for always believing in me and encouraging me to excel in whatever I do — both sport related and non-sport related. I would also like to thank my close Canadian friend Michael Broughton who introduced me to wheelchair basketball and has also kept encouraging me to excel in sports. Another thank you goes to Sandra Thornhill, my first physiotherapist and my lifelong friend.
In 2008 WindReach Bermuda held their first Adaptive Sports Expo and brought some overseas Para-athletes to Bermuda. That is when I became interested in wheelchair track racing through Canadian Para-athlete Curtis Thom and his father Ken Thom (who is also his coach). They loaned me a track chair so I could take part in this sport. After the Expo I wanted to continue to train in track racing but there was no Para-athlete coach in Bermuda. However, Gerry Swan (Bermuda's National Running Coach) stepped up and said he would 'take me on'. I owe him a huge thank you for believing in me and for taking me on as an athlete even though he had never coached an athlete with a disability.
I then started to frequently travel back and forward to Canada to train with other Para-athletes under Coach Ken Thom. He also measured me to get my own track chair which I received in 2010 when I became serious about training in wheelchair track racing. I started going to overseas races that year as well. I would like to say a huge thank you to Ken for coaching me, and to his wife Karen for taking me in as a 'family member'. I am studying Therapeutic Recreation at Brock University in Canada and I travel by bus every weekend to Mississauga to train with Ken. I also train in the gym at Brock three days a week with a personal trainer, and the other two days on my roller.
I am also grateful to Anjali Forber-Pratt from the US who is a fellow Para-athlete in track racing, and who came down to Bermuda for WindReach Bermuda's second Adaptive Sports Expo. She is my role model and has taken me under her wing and helped me excel. I am very fortunate to have her in my life, as she has become such a great friend. I look forward to racing with her in the August, 2012 Paralympic Games!
High on my list of thanks is my family who have totally supported me and encouraged me to do whatever I want. My parents Lorri & Mark Lewis and my sister Jacqui have been my mentors and soul mates. A special thank you also goes to my grandparents Barbara and Cyril Cooper who have been my main sponsors so far in track. They purchased my track chair and have paid for me to go to races overseas for the past two years. But since I am moving up in the sporting world and am travelling more and more to different races as I try to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, travel is getting more expensive. Thus I would like to offer sincere thanks to MAAC Running Club and Renaissance Re in Bermuda who have both generously agreed to co-sponsor me for the Para Pan American Games. I am so pleased that they both believe in me and are helping me achieve my dream of excelling in track racing.
Track racing means the world to me and my heart and soul is in it. I promise to make Bermuda proud and represent my country well as I compete this month on November 16th, 17th and 18th in the upcoming Para-Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
JESSICA COOPER LEWIS