Cortney Jordan of the United States competes at the Womens 200m Individual Medley SM7 Final during day 6 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on September 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Cortney Truitt, née Jordan, misses the days of sitting with her fellow Team USA swimmers on buses, flights or in hotels, and just getting to know them.
“I’m an introvert, but I’m like an extroverted introvert in that I love to talk to people one on one and really get to know them,” she said. “That was one of my favorite parts.”
Truitt is a three-time Paralympian, and she acquired 12 medals, including one gold medal at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008 and eight silver medals. Truitt, 29, retired from swimming in 2018 after the Para Pan Pacific Championships in Australia. She enjoyed her career, but she has now found her way into the classroom, teaching fifth graders in Maryland.
Truitt tries to bring a little bit of her Team USA time to her kids, and she said the Paralympics taught her about persistence, determination and adapting to challenges.
“It kind of brought into my idea of what was possible in a lot of ways,” she said. “I saw a lot of people with disabilities, and they always find a way around their challenges. That’s something that I always try to do.”
Truitt teaches at a Title I school, meaning a majority of its students are of low income. When the pandemic hit, Truitt’s school took two weeks off to help teach the educators on how to use the technology they would soon be using for remote learning. Each student was eventually given Google Chromebooks, courtesy of the local government.
Truitt primarily teaches a variety of classes including an inclusive math class and an English as a Second Language (ESL) course. She said she likes getting to know her students on a personal level.
“I kind of plan my day where I plan on getting those one-on-one moments where I really get to know my kids not just as learners, but as people, so that I can be the best instructor that I can be,” she said. “In order to really teach a kid, you have to know them.”
With classes staying remote for the rest of the semester, she misses seeing her students in person. Her classes are also shorter to prevent students from staring at their devices for too long. So, she has a plan. She is going to have virtual lunches with each student twice a month.
“I was like, ‘I just miss you guys. I miss hearing about your dog or your gymnastics practice. How is playing violin?’ I don’t get to hear all of those things.”
She added, “‘I know you’re in fifth grade. Is it still cool to hang out with your teacher? Will you come to lunch? Am I going to be the only one there?’ They’re like, ‘No, we’ll come. It’ll be great.’”
Truitt started teaching the day after the Rio 2016 Games. Students, immediately, were curious about her time competing and Rio, and they wanted to see her medals. Students could touch and see her prizes as rewards.
She teaches math in addition to other core subjects, and she will show her students some of her races. That way they can see how math skills apply to the real world.
“I say, ‘Look at these decimals. I lost by a tenth of a second,’” she said. ‘“That’s super small, and I’m still not over it.’”
They have since moved past her swimming accolades. Now, Truitt said students have gotten to know her more as a teacher than as a swimmer.
“They don’t think it’s as cool now, ‘Oh, it’s Mrs. Truitt.’”
Truitt tries to find ways to exercise her competitive edge. She misses using that part of herself since retiring from swimming. She started using a Peloton and bike and doing yoga.
The yoga, Truitt said, helps her stay relaxed while trying to plan three weddings during a pandemic. She and her husband, Richy, ended up doing a small wedding from an in-law’s backyard.
A couple of Truitt’s teammates were her bridesmaids. She is grateful for all the support she has garnered from her Team USA squad. She expressed the same gratitude for her fellow fifth-grade teachers.
“I don’t think I could do this without them,” she said. “(The pandemic is) kind of like the Games, it’s brought us together very close very quickly, because it’s a stressful event.”