Paralympic swim star | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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26 August, 2016

Paralympic swim star

Swimmer Jenna will compete at the Paralympics.

Proudly using her green and gold long cane in Rio

Olympians often adorn themselves in the Australian colours when they enter the arena to compete for our country, a tradition 15-year-old Jenna Jones will follow when she uses her specially-prepared green and gold cane at the Paralympics in Rio.

Jenna, who is vision impaired, is one of the youngest members of the Paralympic swim team and will compete in the 50m and 100m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley. 

Remarkably the swimming star was aiming for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 when she will be 19, but proved she was worthy of lining up in Rio when she excelled at the Paralympic trials in Adelaide earlier this year.

Jenna said she was over the moon when she was named in the team. “I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much. I haven’t been able to go to parties and other events due to training,” she said. “Knowing I will compete at the Paralympics makes it all worth it.”

“I am very excited. When I swim I feel very fit, like I can fly through the water.”

Mum, Therese, said she couldn’t be prouder. “It has been terrific watching her reach this level. We are just so happy for her, especially given all the hurdles she has had to jump through to get there,” she said.

No family history of eye condition

Jenna was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) when she was in Kindergarten.

“We have no family history of the condition and were originally told she may lose all her sight,” Therese explained.

“So we threw every sport at her from athletics to cross country and then about six years ago she started swimming and we decided it was much safer for her in the pool,” she said.

When Jenna was in year three an itinerant teacher recommended she learn how to use a long cane and that’s when Therese contacted Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading supplier of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently.

Guide Dogs tailored a program to meet Jenna’s needs and has provided ongoing training as required. Although she often gets by without using her cane at school, Jenna uses the mobility aid when she is by herself. “She feels safer with it as it gives her a sense of security,” Therese said.

Using her cane in a new environment

Jenna said she would use her cane every day in Rio, as she will be moving through unfamiliar surroundings.

The Faulconbridge resident is also learning to read braille as part of her secondary school studies, which she combined with nine swimming and two gym sessions a week in the lead up to the Paralympics.

Swimming has also proved to be more than a sport for the young star, who also suffers from vertigo and a lung condition, which was diagnosed in January. “Swimming really helps keep the condition at bay,” Therese said. “It is really important she keeps on swimming.”

Jenna said she enjoyed watching the swimming at the Olympics. Her favourite Olympian, Michael Phelps, won five gold and one silver medal.

She flew to Alabama with the Paralympics swim team, her first overseas trip, last weekend where the squad will prepare before heading to Rio for the games.

Her five siblings, who are all so proud of her, will be glued to the television when she competes for Australia.

After the Paralympics, Jenna will continue to see how far she can advance in the sport and hopes one day to become a massage therapist.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.

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