Health

Jaleen Roberts Sprints to 2 American Records and 2 Silver Medals in Paralympic Debut

Jaleen Roberts has started off her Paralympic career with a bang: The track and field athlete won two silver medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games this week, and set two American records along the way. 

On August 29, Roberts won silver in the women’s long jump T37 with a distance of 4.65 meters. (T37 is a sport class for athletes with coordination impairments and who are affected by hypertonia, ataxia, and athetosis.) Xiaoyan Wen of China—the current world record and Paralympic record holder—won gold with a distance of 5.13 meters, and Anna Sapozhnikova of the Russian Paralympic Committee won bronze with a distance of 4.56 meters.

The long jump is Roberts’s best event—her nickname is Jumpin’ Jay. According to Team USA, the athlete said that the adrenaline from winning her first Paralympic medal fueled her to snag silver and set an American record​​ in her next event: the women’s 100-meter T37, which took place on September 2.

Roberts finished with a time of 13.16, just behind China’s Xiaoyan Wen, who won gold with a world record time of 13.00. Fenfen Jiang, also of China, finished just behind Roberts to secure bronze with a time of 13.17.

“I didn’t really have expectations,” Roberts said after the 100-meter dash, according to Team USA. “I think that after my prelim performance last night, seeing my time and having my 100 meter so close to the long jump helped. My adrenaline was just kind of still going from last night, so I just went into it with a really good headspace.”

Roberts also raced in the women’s 200-meter T37 earlier in the Games, and although she didn’t medal (she placed sixth), she did set a new American record with her time of 28.02.

The 22-year-old athlete was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that impacts her muscle coordination. She started wrestling when she was in eighth grade and competed at the state level for her high school in Washington, according to the Team USA website. She entered the world of Para sports in 2017.

Over the past year, Roberts has been very open about her mental health on social media. In June, she posted a photo on Instagram to share the news that she was named to the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Team. In the caption, she talked about how much she had gone through to get there.

“My mental health was the worst it had ever been, and quite honestly I wanted to give up on everything—school, track, life. It eventually became so bad that I didn’t feel safe with myself,” Roberts wrote. “I reached out and spoke up so that I could get the help I so desperately needed. When I took the first step to becoming healthy again, I began to rediscover my purpose and regain my motivation. The journey has been everything but easy.”

She then went on to dedicate her Paralympics performance to her dear friend, Kyndal, who passed away in May.

In a press conference after her 100-meter race in Tokyo, Roberts spoke more about her friend. “This Games was dedicated to her, and I just want to make her proud,” Roberts said. “I know that none of my family can be in Tokyo with me, but I know that she’s here. I feel her every time I compete. I talk to her. I think that I made her proud, and that was my main goal during the Games.”

According to Team USA, Roberts plans to take a month off after the Games before getting back into training.

“Obviously, I’ve shown myself the potential I have for the 100 because I wasn’t too confident earlier in the year,” Roberts said, per Team USA. “So I’m feeling pretty good about the training coming up, and I’m excited. Definitely not done anytime soon.”

Roberts’s two silver medals bring the total hardware haul for Team USA to 80. They’re currently fourth in the rankings, behind medal leaders China, Great Britain, and the Russian Paralympic Committee. Action wraps up on September 5, so Team USA still has a few days to add to their count.

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