'Fearless' Jessica Heims set for Paralympics

Track & field: Prairie senior will compete Sunday in the 400, discus

Jessica Heims runs in practice at Cedar Rapids Prairie on Aug. 31. She will compete in the 400-meter dash and the discus at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Jessica Heims runs in practice at Cedar Rapids Prairie on Aug. 31. She will compete in the 400-meter dash and the discus at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Jessica Heims is in Rio de Janeiro for the experience, not the medals.

This time.

“I’m not quite there yet,” the 17-year-old senior from Cedar Rapids Prairie said last week, before heading to Brazil for the Paralympic Games. “A medal ... maybe that’s later in my future.”

Heims’ training for the Paralympics was a crash course. She competed in the U.S. Trials in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this summer, but wasn’t informed that she had earned a spot in Rio until about two weeks ago.

“That’s the bugaboo,” said Bill Calloway, the girls’ track and field coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson who is training Heims. “We had given her some time off after the Trials.

“We were going to start bringing her back along slowly in early August, then she gets put on the team, and that’s great, but we don’t have the base we’d like right now.”

Heims left Saturday and will compete in the women’s 400-meter preliminaries and the discus final on Sunday. She set personal records in both at 1 minute, 11.17 seconds and 84-feet, 9 1/2-inches at the Trials.

“It’s been a little hectic, planning a trip to South America on two weeks’ notice,” said Kris Heims, Jessica’s mother. “But we’re very excited for her. It’s a great opportunity, a great experience.”

Heims suffers from Amniotic Band Syndrome, a random congenital birth defect in which the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting development.


At birth, her lower right leg and foot lacked muscle and bone. Within 12 months, amputation was necessary.

“Jessica is certainly one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Calloway said. “She brings a lot to the table, and the table has always been a little uphill for her.

“She’s flat-out tough. Fearless.”

Kris Heims contacted Calloway about training her daughter about a year ago.

“When she lines up at Nationals, most of the other athletes have coaches, and that really encouraged us to get in touch with Bill,” Kris said. “It’s been a good partnership.”

Calloway said, “I was somewhat hesitant at first. I had never worked with a Paralympic athlete. We developed a program that controls the pounding. A lot of cycling and pool workouts. She has trained at a high level.”

Brad Wymer of Solon is Heims’ throwing coach.

Heims is one of two high school athletes that will be representing Team USA. She plans to walk on to the women’s track and field team at the University of Northern Iowa next year.

She’ll miss two weeks of classes at Prairie.

“The teachers have been great about it,” she said. “I got ahead before I left, and I’ll catch up when I get back.”

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