CORONAVIRUS

Jessica Heims coping with Paralympics postponement, gearing up for 2021

Tokyo Games pushed back a year, and so is Swisher native's training

Jessica Heims works out in the garage at her parents' home in Swisher on Thursday. Heims is a UNI junior and the world r
Jessica Heims works out in the garage at her parents’ home in Swisher on Thursday. Heims is a UNI junior and the world record-holder in the F64 discus throw. With the Tokyo Paralympics postponed, Heims is pointing toward 2021. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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SWISHER — When Jessica Heims took a phone call Wednesday morning, she was lifting weights at home.

And she was coping.

“I’m kind of all over the place now,” she said. “But I’m not complaining. This decision was for the best.”

A junior at the University of Northern Iowa, Heims was getting close to the final stages of her training in preparation for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in Minneapolis (June 25-28), and almost certainly the Paralympic Games in Tokyo (Aug. 28-Sept. 6).

That plan was curtailed early this week, when the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Games are tentatively rescheduled for the summer of 2021.

“We were really set up well for the start of this season,” Heims said. “Now, we’ll have to change our mindset from an Olympic-year mindset to pre-Olympic year. It will be a lot like repeating last year.”

Heims, 21, graduated from Cedar Rapids Prairie in 2017. She suffered 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.

But Heims always has been physically active.

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Within two weeks of receiving her first prosthetic leg, she was walking. She tried most sports when she was a little girl, and her first experience with track and field was at age 10 with the Cedar Rapids Track Club.

She started throwing the discus at Prairie. There, she threw around 75 feet.

Now, Heims is the world-record holder for “F64” — the category for below-the-knee amputees — with an official standard of 112 feet 10 inches, though she has thrown as far as 116-6 in competition.

She qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, placing seventh in the 400-meter dash and eighth in the discus. She is focusing solely on the discus for Tokyo.

But now, instead of getting into competition mode, it’s another year of training and strength work. When she’s in Cedar Falls, she works with UNI throws coach Dan O’Mara. When in Cedar Rapids, she trains with Bill Calloway, former girls’ coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.

Heims is a biology major, envisioning a career in rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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