This year's paralympic world championships, which start Aug. 12 in Montreal, will be much different than every other past worlds. For one thing, my two very best friends won't be there. Anna Eames, Kelley Becherer and I have been "JAK" (Jessica-Anna-Kelly) for the past six years, and Kelley has been my roommate for eight, but both have decided to move on from swimming. Anna took an internship in Washington, D.C., and Kelley announced about a week and a half ago that she's going to retire from swimming to focus on school.
So I'm kind of without my security blankets. There are so many little traditions I'll miss -- secret handshakes, talks before going to sleep, sitting together on the bus. It's going to be totally different at this competition. In some ways it doesn't even feel real that I'm at worlds because normally we'd be texting each other like crazy!
But this is also standard after the Paralympics. The post-Games year tends to be when you make changes to your stroke, go to a new swim team and that sort of thing. This worlds will mark the end of a chapter in my life, too. It's my last meet with my coach, Dave Denniston, and afterward I'm leaving the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to move back to Baltimore to be closer to my family.
I'm one of six kids and my older sister just had a baby girl, so I can't wait to get back there and meet the new little one. But at the same time, I moved out to Colorado three years ago when I was 18, and I feel like I really did the rest of my growing up here. It sounds cheesy, but Colorado will always have my heart! I love the mountains and I love the altitude. And there's nothing better than living at the Olympic Training Center.
Dave has been such a great coach for me, and to me as well. There's never a dull moment with his training. At Easter time, he once brought in eggs with our workouts written inside them, and he's always coming up with these crazy drills for us. The latest one is "Beyoncé Booty," in which we swim with our hips raised and butts out of the water. (This helps us create less resistance with the back half of our body when we're swimming freestyle.)
Dave has also been very supportive of the other major change I've made this year: I've cut back on my training -- a lot. I've stopped doing double sessions and instead am just training once a day from 7 to 9 a.m. I'm not a morning person, so it's still earlier than I would prefer, but it's better than the 5 a.m. workouts I've done in the past! Reducing my time in the pool could be really great, or I could see a negative difference in my fitness when I race. We'll see -- I think it's going to be great, though!
I made the training change after the London Paralympics because I wanted to stay in swimming shape, but I knew if I'd kept pushing myself hard after London I might not be swimming at all today. My goal has been to swim just enough that I still love it. I never want to compete if I don't have that love for the sport.
Since I was about 12 years old, I've always swum at least seven events, but this worlds, I'm cutting back the number of races I do as well. In London I swam nine and it was so exhausting I can barely remember it! This year I'm doing just four events: the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle and 200-meter intermediate medley. I wasn't even going to do the butterfly, but I've been trying to break 1:10 and haven't been able to get under, so I'm giving it another try. I want to swim 1:08. Maybe that's ambitious, but it's what I want!
It's weird, though, to look at the list of events and realize that I'll have a day off and not be swimming every day, three events a day. I'm looking forward to having a good time and finally being able to take it all in for once. I'm excited to see other swimmers race, and to soak it all up. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to swimming after London, and now I'm ready to enjoy every moment in the sport.