Paralympian Lewis inspires students
When she first started taking part in wheelchair races, many people thought Jessica Lewis was doing it just for fun.
After becoming a two-times Paralympian and winning a gold and bronze medal in major international championships, Ms Lewis has learnt a valuable lesson in proving people wrong.
The 25-year-old sprinter visited public schools across the island this week to share her inspirational story that even if life deals you a difficult hand, you can still achieve your dreams.
In a series of presentations organised by the Chain Reaction Movement, Ms Lewis spoke to hundreds of students from the Berkeley Institute, Dellwood Middle School, Sandys Secondary Middle School, Northlands Primary School and Impact Mentoring Academy.
She highlighted the importance of “pushing through people's judgments on me and the importance of standing up for myself”.
Ms Lewis said: “When I first started training and competing, I had a lot of people think that I was just doing this for fun. You know, to keep me active and doing things.
“Everyone thought that I would just be pushing in my day chair and I wouldn't be like an able-bodied athlete. But, through my years of competing and advocating for my sport, people have started to realise just how competitive the sport is and how much hard work I put into my training.”
Ms Lewis was born with a condition called diastematomyelia, meaning her spine was split and she was paralysed from the waist down.
She trained intensively as an athlete anyway, and eventually became a Paralympian at the London Games in 2012. She also performed at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
In 2015, she became the first Bermudian to win a medal at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where she claimed bronze, and was a gold medal-winner at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto the same year.
The secret to her success, she said, has been hard work and making sacrifices. She underwent a lifestyle overhaul, including her eating habits, and moved away from her family to train overseas.
She said: “We are not owed anything in this life. Opportunities will present themselves when we are willing to work hard and open ourselves up to making sacrifices and taking action.
“Sitting on the top of the podium with that shiny gold medal around my neck made all of that hard work worth it.
“I grabbed that opportunity because I went 110 per cent into my plan of getting there and used all of my other races leading up to it as an opportunity to learn and grow as an athlete.
“If your goal was easy to achieve, it wouldn't mean as much to you when you achieve it.”
As a youngster, Ms Lewis had to learn not to hate her disability.
She said: “I have 101 things that make up who I am and my disability isn't all of them. Just like your limitations are not all of who you are.
“I started to realise that just because my legs don't work, there are still multiple ways I can get around.
“I can use my chair, I can crawl, I can walk on my hands. I also started to realise that I am not disabled, I am just differently abled.”
Berkeley student Jedaiylah Francis, 15, said: “I liked how Jessica kept on pushing and never gave up through the entire thing.”
Isaiah McCaskie, another Berkeley student, said the talk taught him about overcoming obstacles. “They give you another way to learn about yourself and the things that you are able to do in life,” he said.
Ms Lewis's final presentation will be at CedarBridge Academy on Monday.
The Chain Reaction Movement is a non-profit organisation that teaches students how to have more impact in their personal lives, schools, families and community.
For more information, visit www.crmovement.org