New year, new chair as Jessica Lewis gears up for massive season
Jessica Lewis is gearing up for a crucial year of competitions as she aims to qualify for a fourth Paralympic Games.
The 29-year-old wheelchair racer has been based in Canada since the turn of the year as she prepares for a hectic schedule of events, starting with the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai at the end of this month before World Para Athletics Championships in Paris in July and the Parapan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, in November.
While Lewis concedes she doesn’t know what to expect in terms of her own form in the United Arab Emirates, she is content that it is all part of a preparation to allow her to peak at the right time for the World Championships, in which a top-four finish would guarantee her a spot at the Paralympic Games, also in Paris, next summer.
“I have a number of major events coming up this year starting with Dubai later this month and they are all geared towards trying to qualify for the Paralympic Games,” said Lewis.
“They all count towards Paralympic qualification points but the World Championships represent automatic qualification for the top four in each event.
“That’s why my training and preparation is geared towards that. It’s hard to know what sort of form I’ll be in for Dubai and I’m trying not to have major expectations because I’m building to hit peak form for Paris to hopefully give me the best chance possible to get one of those automatic places.
“The overall aim is to qualify for the Paralympics as soon as possible because then it takes the pressure off my shoulders heading into next year.”
Lewis will be aiming to build on an encouraging campaign last season, which included setting a personal best of 16.37 sec in the T53 100 metres when finishing second at the Daniella Jutzeler Memorial in Nottwil, Switzerland, in May.
Despite being determined to be a force within her division, there is always an element of unknown regarding the performance level of her rivals heading into every major event.
“Obviously, I hope to be a dominant force and challenge for medals again but a lot depends on who else is racing at certain events,” added Lewis, who won two gold medals and a silver at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
“I know a number of strong athletes have retired but I don’t know who will be coming up through the ranks because you never quite know until competition.
“There is always an element of the unknown. I know there are some really good athletes over in Europe who are coming through in that next phase but, for example, we never get to see the girls over in China until major competitions so it’s hard to know where I stack up in terms of my rivals.
“It’s all about just trusting the process and not doubting what you’re doing in training.”
Lewis will be focusing on the T53 100 metres and 400 metres rather than the 800 and with the smallest margins making the difference, she has recently switched to a new custom-made racing chair and altered her seating position in an attempt to increase her power.
It is a process that has taken some adjusting to but she is confident that the benefits and improvements are already evident.
“I got the new racing chair at the end of last year and I’ve been getting used to it over the Christmas period and early this year,” added Lewis, who believes the transition was necessary to keep up with advancements in technology and to get accustomed to her racing position ahead of a crucial year.
“The new position is very different and that took a little getting used to but I’m loving the chair. It is much lighter than my previous chair and I’m definitely feeling more powerful in it. I’m definitely seeing improvements.
“As with a lot of sports small changes can make such a major difference. The technology of the chairs has advanced in the past few years and so it is vitally important to keep up. My old chair was from 2019 and a lot has changed since then.
“It was also key to make the change now ahead of the upcoming major championships. It was important to give myself enough time to get used to it before the World Championships and hopefully the Paralympics.
“The new position is definitely helping me generate more power with it being a lighter frame and so hopefully that translates into races.”
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