Jessica Tuomela

2000 Sydney; 2004 Athens; 2008 Beijing – Jessica Tuomela

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Jessica Tuomela is an Olympic veteran.

The 26-year-old Cambridge woman competed not once, twice but three times in the Paralympics.

Tuomela is a sprinter and in the 2000 Games she won a silver medal in the 50 metre freestyle. In 2004 in Athens, she came in fourth in 50 metre free, while in 2008 in Beijing she placed ninth in 50 metre free and eighth in 100 metre freestyle.

Tuomela is a blind swimmer. The Sault Ste. Marie native lost her sight as a toddler to cancer.

Tuomela moved to Brantford to attend the W. Ross Macdonald School for the blind when she was 12. It was there that she learned to swim.

“I thought, ‘Wow I’m good at this’,’’ she said.

After three years in Brantford, Tuomela went back to Sault Ste. Marie to finish high school and returned to southern Ontario to attend Wilfrid Laurier University. Plus, she wanted to swim and Laurier was the home of the national swim centre.

It was in the Laurier pool and with ROW that Tuomela honed her skills in the pool as a freestyle specialist. She trained five days a week with the help of a tapper – a person who gently taps her head with a stick anchored in foam to signify that the pool wall is near.

During her swimming career, she had a few accidents when she didn’t feel the tap such as chipping her teeth and a few concussions.

For her first Olympics, her mother, Sophia was her tapper and in 2004 and 2008, her best friend since childhood Christena Hurley was the tapper. Both women attended Laurier together.

Tuomela recalls how nervous she was at her first Olympic trials in Montreal in 2000.

“It was a little overwhelming,’’ said Tuomela, who was 17 at the time.

In Sydney, Tuomela remembers “everything being new and exciting but I had to stay focused,’’ she said.

When Tuomela went to the 2008 Games in Beijing, she knew they would be her last Olympics.

“At some point you have to stop. It’s a hard decision but Beijing didn’t go as I planned,’’ said Tuomela, who came in ninth overall. The top eight swimmers moved on to the finals.

Tuomela said swimming was difficult but worth the effort. She said the sport taught her life skills of time management, commitment, and perseverance. Being in the pool also taught her to set goals and achieve them, she said.

Tuomela will soon graduate from the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in Cambridge and hopes to work with athletes.

“I really don’t want to be on deck but behind the scenes,’’ she said.

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