After graduation May 7th, Jessica Greenwald of Orange, to compete in qualifying rounds for Rio de Janeiro
IRVINE, Calif..—April 20, 2016—Jessica Greenwald has been swimming since she was four years old. “Swimming was summer in Southern California,” says the disabled collegiate swimmer. But she didn’t see it as a sport until her dad encouraged her to compete.
Jessica swam competitively at Villa Park High School, and also did club swimming. Born with mild cerebral palsy, her legs were never fully developed. As a result, most of Jessica’s propulsion comes from her arms. She competes against able-bodied swimmers in freestyle events and the breaststroke, a difficult stroke with technical execution so precise that swimmers are often disqualified. Yet, the 22 year-old college senior at Concordia University Irvine (CUI) has perfected it.
Ever since she learned about the Paralympics only three years ago, Jessica’s been working to qualify for meets. And, she has. In 2014, at the Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference championships in La Mirada, Jessica swam the 50-yard breaststroke. Prior to the competition, she was a little over a second from the Paralympic trials time standard. With teammates and swimmers and coaches from other teams cheering her on, Jessica finished a full two seconds below her previous best time, making the qualifying round for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
On May 7th, the Paralympic hopeful will graduate with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from Concordia University Irvine where she’s been a member of the school’s swim program since she started as a freshman in 2012. Jessica can’t drive, and the pool is off campus. She’s also lived on campus all four years of college. As a result, her teammates give her rides, and help her carry her backpack. College has not been easy, though. “My mom did a lot for me, and all of a sudden that was taken away from me,” recalls Jessica. “I had to learn how to live with a disability on my own.” She also admits that the hardest thing about swimming competitively is getting out of her own head. “I have certain expectations. I’m very hard on myself. I have to remember that thinking like that takes the fun out of swimming.”
Although collegiate swim season is over, Jessica continues to work out in order to drop her time. If she continues on this track, she will compete for the qualifying round of the U.S. Paralympic swim team at the Paralympic Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina June 30-July 2.
For Concordia University head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, Jeff Boss, this is new territory for the veteran swim coach. Jessica is Boss’ first disabled swimmer to coach. “College is hard and Jessica is balancing a lot,” remarks the veteran swim coach. “She has the respect of her professors and teammates, and she has friends on other teams.” Boss is the former swim coach at Mission Viejo High School, and he also coached for the Nadadores swim team in Mission Viejo. “I coach her the same as all the other athletes,” says Boss. “She’s a person, a swimmer, and a student-athlete. She’s on our team and we want to give her the best experience possible. I’ve had coaches say ‘That’s such a great thing.’ I say, well, I don’t think that much about it. If she misses the bus, she gets a scolding like everyone else.”
Concordia assistant swimming coach, Staciana Winfield, has also played a big part in Jessica’s success. Winfield, a gold-medal Olympic swimmer, has a soft spot in her heart for disabled athletes. When a friend and fellow swimmer became paralyzed after an accident and retrained to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, she was inspired. “When I met Jessica, I said ‘I’d love to work with you,’” Winfield says. “I told her ‘I’ve never done this before, but I want to help you.’”
Coach Winfield also shares another bond with the student-athlete. Winfield, who lost all of her hair at age 12, understands what it’s like to work through an external disability. “My condition is not anywhere close to Jessica’s, but I know what it’s like to have an outward disability,” Winfield says. “I learned at a very young age that people were going to judge me, so I had to figure out how to work through it.” Winfield has alopecia universalis, a condition characterized by complete loss of hair on the scalp and body.
Jessica Greenwald, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher, couldn’t imagine life without swimming. “I feel freer in the water than I do on land,” she says.
About Concordia University Irvine
Concordia University Irvine (CUI) prepares students for their vocations—their calling in life. Concordia offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in education, nursing, theology, business, and athletic administration. CUI’s undergraduate program is distinctive because of its nationally recognized core curriculum, Enduring Questions & Ideas, and its Lutheran heritage that provides a thoughtful and caring Christian community that lives out the theology of "Grace Alone. Faith Alone." Concordia is a U.S. News Top Tier Regional University and has been named by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the fastest growing private nonprofit master's institutions. CUI enrolls over 4,000 students annually and is in year two of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Membership Process.
A 4-minute amateur video of Jessica’s 2016 Paralympic Games qualification swim at the 2014 PCSC Championships in La Mirada, CA is available upon request.
Lizz Mishreki, APR
Director of Communications
Concordia University Irvine