U.S. Paralympics Tra... Features Jessica Heims Works ...

Jessica Heims Works To Balance School, Collegiate Track And Paralympics

By Sheridan Powell | Sept. 25, 2020, 5:39 p.m. (ET)


Jessica Heims smiles on the medals stand at the 2019 ParaPan American Games. 

Jessica Heims is just like any other collegiate athlete. 

Her schedule is packed full of classes, studying and training. But on top of all the usual demands of college, athletics and a social life, Heims is also training for her second Paralympic Games. 

Heims, born with amniotic band syndrome, had her left leg amputated below the knee at 12 months old. She grew up playing sports, just like any other child would and joined a local youth track club at age 10. 

A few short years later, Heims and her family drove from their home state of Iowa to Oklahoma to check out the Endeavor Games, an adaptive track and field meet. 

“It was there that I was introduced to the world of Para athletics and adaptive sports,” Heims said. “It made me so excited to use what I’d learned in my training so I could continue to grow.” 

When she reached high school, Heims really doubled down and became more serious about pursuing a spot on the U.S. National Paralympic Track and Field team. 

And at just the age of 16, she did just that. 

Heims qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and finished in the top ten in both of her events - the discus and the 400-meter. 

“When I first was introduced into the Para world, there were people who were sort of my idols, people I looked up to as the biggest stars I’ve ever met,” Heims said. “And then a few years down the road I was competing alongside them at the Paralympics.” 

She admits that it was a lot to take in at a young age, but thankfully her support system at home helped her to remain humbled. 

“My family at home made sure I wouldn’t get too caught up in the idea of myself being a Paralympic athlete,” she laughed. “They help me ground myself and balance myself when I’m off around the world as well as when I’m home and being a “normal person.” 

I would just encourage fans new to the Paralympics to really enjoy the excitement and the diversity of it all!

A few years later, Heims became the first female leg amputee to receive a Division I Track and Field scholarship. She competes for the University of Northern Iowa, where she’s in her final year of studying biology as well. When asked about the practice of balancing it all, Heims laughed and admitted it’s something she’s become used to. 

“Thankfully I’ve had many, many years of practice with this,” Heims laughed. “I have rarely had issues talking to professors about having to miss classes - they all understand that it’s a big deal, and they’re more exciting about me going and competing than they are sad about me missing a class.” 

While the postponement was a difficult adjustment for Heims, she knows that the last few months have been hard for just about everyone. She instead has focused on the positives - including extra time at home with family and connecting with teammates through technology. 

“Thankfully there have been a lot of Zoom meetings and Facetimes where we’ve been able to do home workouts together and try to keep some sense of normalcy,” Heims explained. “I just tried to focus on keeping my body healthy, my mind healthy and my relationships with people healthy as well.” 

And while Heims and her sisters had aspirations to pick up new hobbies during the first few months of quarantines, so did the rest of the country. So as other people learned to quilt or knit, Heims instead focused her extra time on her parents garden back home. 

“The garden at my parents’ house is my baby,” she smiled. “I spent a lot of time out there weeding and tending to the plants while I had the time.” 

For now, as Heims continues with college classes and training for both the upcoming collegiate season and eventually the Paralympic Games, she’s most looking forward to the reunion with her teammates. 

“A lot of my really good friends are from out of state or out of the country, and although we usually only see each other a few times a year, this has been a very extended break,” she laughed. “I just miss the aura and the energy of being with them and being surrounded by some of the best athletes in the world.” 

Heims also talked about how exciting it’s been to witness the growth of the Paralympic Movement.

“I would just encourage fans new to the Paralympics to really enjoy the excitement and the diversity of it all,” she said. “There’s so much depth and so many stories - I feel like I’ve only just dipped my toes in it and I’m an athlete myself!” 

Related Athletes

head shot

Jessica Heims