Cortney Jordan is eager to get this year started.
The two-time Paralympic swimmer has been training in hopes of opening 2015 with a bang. She plans to swim six events over three days at the Can-Am Para-Swimming Championships in Toronto, March 20-22.
It’s not only the first real test of the year, but a qualifier for the U.S. team that will compete at the IPC Swimming World Championships at Glasgow, Scotland, in July. One of Jordan’s primary goals in 2015 is to compete at worlds.
Jordan — an eight-time Paralympic medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Games in the S7 classification — plans to swim the 50, 100 and 400-meter freestyle, the 50 butterfly, the 200 IM and the 100 backstroke, which she knows is going to be “a little bit challenging.”
“But I’m competitive in all the events, so I wanted to have a chance, if something goes wrong in one event, I’ll have another event to fall back on,” she said.
She’s been training hard for the Can-Am, but when asked about her fitness level, she laughed.
“I hope it’s good,” she said. “I guess we’ll see in Toronto.”
Last year Jordan won four races at the Can-Am and was second in three others. On paper, that sounds good. But Jordan wasn’t happy at all with her performance. She had pneumonia last spring, and her times weren’t as good as she had hoped.
Now she’s feeling strong and fit. She’s been working with Loyola University head swimming coach Brian Loeffler in Baltimore since moving there last year for grad school. Her daily workout partners include Paralympians Brad Snyder, McKenzie Coan and Alyssa Gialamas, and she says the atmosphere is both supportive and challenging.
She points to her performance at the Pan Pacific meet in August — when she set three personal records — as more indicative of the progress she’s making. But, she says, she’s going to “have to swim very fast” at Toronto to make the U.S. world championships team. She’ll be going against a strong field.
“Everyone’s going to be on their game,” she said.
At this point, every swimmer is hoping to get some momentum toward the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
“This is a very important year for me because it’s going to show me where I am,” said Jordan, 23. “I mean, this whole year is a crucial year because it’s a year before Rio, so it’s the year to really critique everything and see what works and what didn’t work so you can have the best plan going forward.”
Because this is Jordan’s third time preparing for the Paralympic Games, she feels better able to gauge where she is in her preparation. If she qualifies for the worlds team, she’ll likely bypass some of the other big meets in 2015 to continue training and prepping for the world championships. She’ll swim in some smaller events, but her main goal will be to swim well at Glasgow.
And, because she swims so many different strokes and distances, there’s always a lot of fine-tuning to be done.
This year, she’s not only training with Loeffler, but also spending time with a new physical trainer as well, one who is well versed with the challenges that come with her cerebral palsy.
“She’s awesome,” Jordan said. “She’s getting me really fit. She’s really good at working with my disability and doing things that may not be difficult for an able-bodied person but may be very challenging for me, just because of my coordination issues. I feel like I’m getting a lot better with her help and Brian’s help and the help of my teammates.”
While she’s training, Jordan also is busy — very busy — with plenty of other projects.
She’s working on her master’s degree in elementary education at Loyola and will graduate next May. That, she says, will be perfect timing. She’ll be able to devote about three consecutive months to intense training leading up to the Paralympic Games.
But between now and then, Jordan will maintain a hectic schedule.
She works as a nanny, she coaches swimming, she works in a nursery and she’s doing student teaching (doing an after-school class that focuses on reading and working with words). She also was working as a lifeguard, too, but had to give it up.
“Yeah, my days are pretty crazy,” said Jordan, whose training teammates have labeled her “Team Mom” because of her desire to look out for others. “I mean, it’s challenging, but I absolutely love everything that I’m doing, so it doesn’t make it as hard. I love going to school and learning and getting my master’s because I know it’s going to make me a better teacher and I want to be the best teacher I can be for my kids.
“And I know that the training I’m doing right now — even though some days I don’t want to get out of bed — is the best for me.”
Jordan also has been doing some motivational speaking. Sometimes, she talks about the Paralympic Movement, or she combines her Paralympic experience with a message about staying positive, doing what you love, believing in yourself and surrounding yourself with kind people.
She recently spoke to students at Coronado High School, her alma mater in Henderson, Nevada, right outside Las Vegas, and said she was grateful for the opportunity and the chance to connect with them about staying positive and making good choices.
“Growing up with my disability, I had some hard times,” she said. She mentioned being bullied in middle school and how she wished back then that she didn’t have her disability. That’s no longer the case.
“It took awhile to realize I’m this way for a reason, and I’m actually really thankful for my disability now, even though sometimes it’s really hard,” she said. “I’m more tired than able-bodied peers and I’m really uncoordinated and things are more difficult for me, but I’m happy for it. … It’s made me a more appreciative person.”
Part of what she has to be thankful for is the chance to compete in two Paralympic Games. And, if her training and performance continue on an upward arc — beginning at the Can-Am next week — a third in Rio.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.