Jessica Lewis honoured to fly the flag in Paralympics opening ceremony
Jessica Lewis hailed the incredible honour of being Bermuda’s flag bearer as the Paralympic Games officially got under way in Tokyo yesterday.
Postponed by a year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Games were finally able to begin at the Olympic Stadium in Japan’s capital, with an opening ceremony full of colour and celebration interjected with a touch of poignancy, under the concept of We Have Wings, which organisers said was intended to raise awareness of the courage of Paralympians.
While, the ceremony was an entirely different experience to Games gone by, with no spectators there to witness the spectacle — as will be the case throughout the Paralympics — Lewis, Bermuda’s sole Paralympian in Tokyo, competing in wheelchair sprinting, spoke of an incredibly special moment nonetheless.
“Having the opportunity to once again be the flag bearer for Bermuda at my third Paralympic Games was beyond incredible,” said the 27-year-old, who secured her qualification spot after finishing fourth in the in the women's 100 metres T53 final at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai.
“It definitely was a different atmosphere not having the usual crowds of people but was still a special moment. Being the flag bearer is a massive moment for any athlete and it was an awesome experience to be there with the Bermuda flag.”
With the Games officially under way, Lewis can now turn her focus back on preparing for her opening event, the first heat of the women’s 800 metres T53 category race on Sunday.
While her preparations in Tokyo have been far from ideal thus far, with her luggage arriving in the country only yesterday, Lewis is relishing getting back on track and competing on the world stage again.
“We are settling in fine at the Paralympic Village now that our luggage has finally arrived,” added Lewis, who was previously being considered among the medal contenders — particularly in the women’s 100m T53 race — had the Games gone ahead as originally scheduled last year. “I have been stressing a lot over that so it’s nice now to be able to take a deep breath and really focus in on my races and final few days of training preparation.
“I've had a bit of jet lag but I’m feeling better now. Training has been going well and it’s so great to be back on the track with so many athletes from all around the world.
“I am really looking forward to racing. I’m also glad that I have the 800 up first so I can get a race under my belt before the 100. It will give me the chance to work out the nerves and get a better feel for how I am stacking up to the rest of the field.”
Gauging her form against her Paralympic rivals has proved almost impossible for Lewis owing to a lack of consistent competition with the pandemic all but wiping out last year’s sporting calendar.
While Lewis feels slightly more reassured having had a glimpse of her competition back on the track, albeit in training exercises, she is adamant that her focus must remain solely on her own preparations and race strategy.
“Seeing everyone back on track has given me a little bit of confidence but also some slight nerves,” she said. “However my coach and I are working on just staying focused on my race and what I need to do to be sure I can race at my optimal level.
“Like I’ve said before, all that really matters is that my own preparations are as good as they possibly can be and making sure I focus fully on myself.”
Lewis previously spoke of her uncertainty about whether she was fully convinced about competing in Tokyo, with many demanding the guaranteed safety of competitors ahead of the Games, with para-athletes more susceptible to the dangers of Covid-19.
However, despite Japan experiencing its biggest wave of the pandemic since it began last year and active cases continuing to be identified with connection to the Games, including inside the Paralympic Village itself, Lewis remains assured by the organisers’ handling of the situation with stricter protocols and restrictions in place.
“I do feel safe,” she added. “Everyone is tested every day and all are wearing masks whenever they leave their rooms. I’m also taking precautions and limiting my time out around others when I can.”