Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Episode 57: Paralympian Jaleen Roberts, On The Tokyo Games, Track & Field, and Life!

"Episode 57 of Running Anthropologist" drops September 22nd, 2021 and is available on most podcast apps, including Google, Apple, Spotify and Anchor!

Did you know that over 4,400 paralympians competed in the Tokyo games, with over 1,800 female athletes across 22 sports and 23 disciplines? And that this was the biggest field ever for women in the Paralympics as well? It also saw the introduction of the 4x100 Universal Relay in track and field, which symbolizes the true diversity of athletic abilities at the games. Team USA has participated in every Summer and Winter Paralympic Games since 1960 and is currently first on the all-time medal table. A whopping 60% of the medals brought home this year at the Olympic games were from women...  

Jaleen Roberts, post-100m run that won silver in Tokyo!

Twenty two-year-old Jaleen Roberts, our guest today, brought home medals in two track and field events, specifically the long jump and 100m silver medals. She also boasts multiple World Championship medals in 2017 and 2019, including a gold in the universal relay, mentioned above, at its international debut. She is originally from Washington state and began para competition late in her high school career, where she "took a chance" and followed the advice of her coaches when someone from the local para-sports club reached out to her. She went on to attend college at Eastern Wash State University in physical/health education, where she continued training with the Spokane-based ParaSport club and international competitions. 

Posing with double-silver, in 100m and long jump in division T-37.

We caught up with Jaleen for this interview took place just over a week after her return home and move to San Diego, where she is completing her student teaching and starting a new life as an independent athlete, and training with a new club soon. She reflects on her racing and jumping origins/roots (which involved wrestling), and the culture around those who want to have the highest level of competition but also have a disability. Jaleen was born with cerebral palsy, but was always competitive among all fully-abled athletes growing up. She enjoys sharing the origins of competing and how she found the sports she has now mastered, running and long jump. And many other events and sports in between that led her to this, learning the dedication it takes to succeed, from soccer to wrestling to basketball, to name a few.

One thing is clear from our conversation: Just "doing life" can be difficult for an Olympian or Paralympian who are not paid like other professional athletes, as she relates how she juggles work/school commitments, student teaching and training. Jaleen also shares what it was like to compete in Tokyo during Covid restrictions, and what magic the Olympic village held in terms of connecting to her Team USA, Japanese and Chinese fellow competitors especially. She also explains some of the different categories of paralympic competition (see more here), and how she fits into these classifications based upon ability level for ambulatory disability. She also shares the transition from Paralympics to Olympic Games in general, and how much she desires to be a role model as her primary job, even above being an athlete.

How do we succeed in life and in running?  Well, in closing, she shares her mantra as an athlete since high school, to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and "take a chance" on something new!

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