Jessica Heims came into running naturally. The 17 year-old daughter of runners, and member of an active family, didn’t let the fact that she was born with Ambiotic Band Syndrome and lost her leg at 12 months slow her down. After a successful trip to the IPC World Championships, the high-school junior is now adding a bid for the Rio Games to her busy plate of activities. The 2015 E-Team inductee talks about why she loves to run, her ultimate goals in sport and beyond and how you too can be a successful athlete.
What is your earliest running memory?
As a little kid I remember my mom going on runs while pushing me and my younger sister in a stroller, and that kind of made running a normal thing in my life. I started running myself when I was around 10, starting with local 5ks and then joining a local youth track club.
What is it about running, or sports in general, that you really enjoy?
I enjoy the challenge of running, both physically and mentally. While there are team awards and team events, the basis of running is you against yourself and you against the clock. I like how in order to get better and improve you have to do the work on your own- you can’t just depend on a team to pick up your slack. If you put in the effort, improvement isn’t far behind.
What made you want to participate in competitive sports?
I’ve always had a little competitive side to me, so that was definitely a factor. When you run a race, you get immediate feedback on who won and where you stood with everyone. Running beside your competitors give you the motivation that nothing else does. I like being able to measure my progress both comparatively to my competitors as well as with my previous race times. It makes goal setting a lot more fun when I can physically see my times becoming faster.
What does a typical training day look like for you?
I have in-season and off-season training. Off season will be 4-5 days a week, and will consist of weightlifting, bike intervals, and/or sprints on the track. A few days a week will also include discus drills or throws. In season I will be training 5ish days a week, usually sprints on the track. During high school track season I have to balance sprint training and discus training, especially since I throw for my high school and throw privately with a coach outside of school. I guess you could say I stay pretty busy.
Do you have any pre-race rituals or routines?
I’ve never been one to have a strict pre-race ritual, but there are a few things I do notice myself doing repeatedly. I usually like to eat either a plain bagel with peanut butter or oatmeal for breakfast. I’ve always been a sucker for a good bagel. Unlike lots of people, I don’t have a music playlist I listen to, but if I’m with my family on the way to a meet we usually put on a good mix of pump-up music to get me excited. The last sort-of ritual I have is just saying a quick prayer when I’m either in the call room or getting ready to check in for my event. It helps me calm down and be thankful for the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.
What is your favorite distance to run?
I’ve always gone back and forth on this, because just about anything sounds like a good idea when you’re about to run a 400. But I think I’ve decided that the 200 is my favorite event. It’s long enough to require a good amount of sprint endurance, but short enough that I know I’ll be able to give full effort the entire race.
Do you have a highlight of your career?
My highlight would hand-down go to the IPC World Championships in Doha Qatar this past October. I was not expecting to make the team, so it took me a long time to comprehend that I would actually be going to the world games. I found out halfway through one of my drumline rehearsals, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention the rest of the practice. Being in Doha was amazing; the atmosphere of being surrounded by hundreds of other athletes from all over the world was definitely a whole new experience for me. The track venue itself was so surreal- especially with all of the cameras videotaping each event for the live feed broadcast that my friends and family were watching back home. I never felt more comfortable or more alive than while I was racing on that track.
What is your favorite thing to do on a day when you aren’t training?
On the rare and blessed days where I’m not training, I like to spend my time reading books, watching movies, or hanging out with friends. Stereotypical, I know. I get restless when I don’t have something to do, but I must say that I do appreciate spending a few hours (or a day) watching Netflix. I also really enjoy anything regarding marching band or music; I can easily waste away my morning playing my piano.
What are your future goals outside of sports?
I would like to continue more 4.0+ GPA for the rest of my high school career, graduate, and go on to college to get a degree. Right now I am looking at a Biology major and going into the medical field, specifically physical therapy.
Do you have any advice for a new adaptive athlete?
My advice would be to just enjoy it. Some people focus too much on the competition and glory of becoming the best that they miss the whole point of sports in the first place- to do what you love. Starting a sport as an adaptive athlete can be very scary and intimidating, but keeping a strong mindset and vision of what is important is the best thing to do. Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you to have fun and enjoy the best that life has to offer.