Introducing…Cortney Jordan, a two-time Paralympian. Medalled in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. Set a new world record in the mile. Training for Rio 2016, while holding down three jobs, and studying for her master’s in education.
What is your hometown? My dad was in the military. So, I have had 13 hometowns. I was a military brat, but I lived in Nevada from the age of 12-17. I like to think of America as my hometown.
What sport or sports do you play? I only swim. I swim everyday, except Sunday. Swimming is all I have time for because I am studying for my master’s degree and I work three jobs. (Cortney is studying to be an elementary teacher. She says she has wanted to be a teacher since she was four, which is longer than she wanted to be a swimmer.)
Pause in the interview due to technical difficulty. Cortney is speaking with me from the university library. It is the one hour she had free. She just finished two of her jobs and is now on campus for class.
What is your training schedule? Right now, it is a little tricky because I am trying to balance training and school. I usually wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I then swim from 6:00-8:00. I work from 9:00-12:00. If I can, I will work out again with weights or some sort of land training. Then, I will head to class. If I don’t have class, I coach swimming. I eventually get home around 7:00 p.m., and then I do it all over again.
What superpowers do you possess? I like to think that I am very kind. I think being kind is a good super power to have because a good attitude can change someone’s day. I am also insanely patient. It is a good trait for teachers or swimmers to have. I am really stubborn, too. I get it from my dad and my grandpa. It runs in my family. The stubborn power may seem negative, but it is not. When I really want something, I set a goal and work hard until I achieve it- whether it is in the Paralympics or school.
What books inspire you? I love books! I have to read at least a chapter of a book every night. It is so hard to choose my favorite, but I do love Khaled Hosseini’s books- The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. His books are amazing. I’ve read each of them at least three times. I love the way he portrays humanity.
Since you will be a teacher, what children’s books do you like? For children’s books, I like The Day the Crayons Quit. Each color is such a strong character, and the illustrations make you think outside the box. It is a great book to use when you’re teaching.
What songs are on your workout playlist? I don’t listen to music when I swim, but I may have a song in my head as I train. I do really like Blink 182 from the 1990’s-2000’s. My favorite is The Rock Show. During a meet, I first listen to Miranda Lambert’s Makin’ Plans to stay calm and remind myself that swimming is just one part of my life. Swimming is a great part of my life, but it is only one part of my life. Lambert’s song reminds me to focus on my family and reminds that they will love me no matter my performance. One race does not define you. Then, when I’m in the “ready room” just before I swim, I like to get pumped up. I switch gears and listen to Blink 182.
What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? I am proud of three things. First, the gold medal I won in Beijing. I was only 17 years old and I wasn’t supposed to medal. Going into the race I was ranked fourth, and I took two seconds off my time in the 50 to win the gold. Second, I was nominated for NCAA Sportswoman of the Year. I was the first ever disabled sportswoman to ever be nominated in any sport and was one of the top 30 finalists. I was so proud to be representing the Paralympics. Third, I am really proud of the influence I have on younger athletes. I try to inspire them to keep going in the sport and reach the goal of the Paralympics. At invitational meets where the younger kids are competing against me, it’s not fair. I always win. So, I give the younger swimmers in my events my medals to inspire them. I tell them that I see potential in them and they can go somewhere with the Paralympics if they just keep training hard. From giving my medals away, I now have a little “mini-me.” Her name is Emilia. She has the same disability and looks just like me. Now, I’m known as the team “mom” because I always have these little girls following me around the pool deck. During the meets, I guide them to their lanes to make sure everyone gets to their events. Sometimes, I will even wait for them at the other end of the pool so they can focus on swimming to me and not worry about the race. I think that is what it is all about…helping out others.
What’s your mantra on tough days? It’s a quote from an Elizabeth Berg book, where a mother with MS who is raising her young daughter shares the idea that, “If you act like it is the last time you will do anything, then it will feel like the first time.” Therefore, if you think it is the last time you are going to do something, then it becomes more precious to you. Then, you put everything into it.
How do you define ability? That’s a good one. Usually, I am asked to define “disability.” Ability is doing your best and putting all your effort into something. It is demonstrating what you are capable of.
This question leads to a discussion on how she is often asked by others, “what is your disability?” People will say to her that she doesn’t look “disabled.” Some people will even ask, “What’s wrong with you?” Cortney said she replies, “Nothing. What’s wrong with you?”
What’s your sports story? I come from a swimming family. My grandfather is one of the founders of the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Ocean City Beach Patrol. He was a big influence in my career because he was a tremendous advocate for disabled swimming. When I was born with cerebral palsy, he told my parents just to get me in the water and that I would be fine. He was right.
My father and older sister also swam. I wanted to do anything my older sister did because she was so cool. When I was younger, I would swim, and swim, and swim. I was so bad at it. I was always the worst swimmer in the pool. When I swam all the other swimmers would be done with the event, wrapped in their towels at the side of the pool and eating nachos, while I kept swimming until I finished. You know, I was the swimmer that everyone does the pity clap for at the end of an event. When I swam, I even scared the lifeguards. They were watching and thinking, “Is this kid going to make it?” But, I loved it and I still do. I love swimming. When I am in the water, it is the one time I am not in pain. With my disability, I am in pain almost all the time. It feels good to be in the water. I feel free. It is such a blessing. I’m lucky I was born into a swimming family.
However, I was going to quit swimming when I was 13. At that point, I had only swam in able-bodied meets. But then, I went to my first swim meet for physically challenged swimmers. I won everything. Afterwards, I was invited to join the US team and go to the World Games. It changed my life. Until that point, I didn’t know about the Paralympics. It wasn’t on television, and it wasn’t well publicized in the US. Fortunately, it will be in Rio 2016. We really need to raise awareness around the Paralympics and shift the stigma around disabled people.
Recently, I was in Panera bread and this older man asked me why I limp. I told him I was disabled and had cerebral palsy. He responded that I was too pretty to be disabled. This demonstrates how people don’t think you can be attractive and disabled. Another challenge some of my teammates and I face is that people think we are cognitively disabled because we are physically disabled. Also, they don’t see us as athletes. We need to change their perceptions. The most beautiful people I know are disabled.
(Cortney and I then discuss how we will work together to change these perceptions. She will teach and I will write lots of books. She thinks we should start a library. I agree.)
What advice do you have for other athletes? Stay positive and keep it fun. There is no point in doing it if you are not having fun. I couldn’t imagine getting up at 4:30 every day and doing what I do if I didn’t love it. Do what you love and give it 100 percent. Then, you will be successful.
Who would you like to thank? I have a million people to thank. There are so many good people in my life. I have my family: my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandpa, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles…I have a huge family. I also want to thank my teammates and coach. They create the best training environment right now. There are so many more people. I think I have too many really amazing people in my life.
(Personally, I think all of amazing people in her life are a direct reflection of Cortney and her super powers. On a final note, Cortney has invited me to visit her in her future class to read my books aloud and to co-teach. I look forward to learning from her in the classroom. )
To hear more from Cortney Jordan, you can view the following interviews:
You can also follow her as she trains for Rio 2016 on Twitter @CortneyJordan24.