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UNI’s Jessica Heims & Erin Kerkhoff earn Team USA roster spot for Tokyo Paralympics

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 9:48 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After the Paralympic games were postponed last summer, former Prairie Hawk Jessica Heims was unsure what the future would hold.

“I had no idea what would be the future of track,” Heims said “I didn’t know if we would be able to even have trials or games this year,”

Fast forward a year to last week’s qualifying in Minnesota, Heims entered as one of the favorites in the discus but still had to hold her breath on Thursday as the team announced its roster.

“I just had my fingers crossed the whole week,” Heims explained.

Once her name was called, nerves transitioned to excitement

“Traveling anywhere after last year is an absolute amazing gift so I really want the country to know how grateful all of us athletes are for what they’re doing,” Heims added.

Heims has been to the Paralympic games once before in Rio, but carries a different perspective this time around.

“Five years ago now, I was a young wee little one and I had some level of confidence, but now I’m so much more sure of myself as a person and as an athlete and I can go into it with an expectation and, you know, actually attempt a medal and not just go thinking, Oh my gosh I’m here I’m freaking out,” Heims said.

What makes this time around even more exciting was when another UNI Panther’s name was called in former Solon Spartan Erin Kerkhoff, who just started competing in para-athletics this year.

“When I heard my name on the roster I just, I got butterflies, I was really happy I made the team” Kerkhoff said. ‘Never even dreamed or thought about going to Tokyo and now it’s just crazy.”

As teammates at UNI, Heims and Kerkhoff got to know each other better as the year went on. For Kerkhoff, watching Heims compete first hand at an elite level gave her the motivation to attempt the same.

“It is just so inspiring and I’m like, seeing her do it and I just want it to push me to be able to be at that same level and do what she does,” Kerkhoff said.

The games will have COVID-19 protocols in place, but now both Heims and Kerkhoff will have somebody close by, who grew up just miles away, to lean on as they travel to the other side of the globe in the world’s biggest competition.

“I’m glad that she’ll be there supporting me and I’ll be supporting her. I’m excited.” Kerkhoff said.

“I never thought I would be able to have a teammate from home come with me and now we both get to go on this journey together and my heart is just so happy is exploding thinking about it,” Heims said.

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