Local Paralympian's spirit surmounts all obstacles

Cortney Jordan to swim in her second Paralympic Games in London

Cortney Jordan will be among those favored in London this summer to stand on a podium and have a gold medal slipped around her neck.

Photo: Scott Chisholm

I wonder if those doctors are watching, hearing, reading, learning about the incredible young woman and athlete Cortney Jordan has become.

I wonder if they have any idea.

The human spirit continues to be our healthy core, the one feature we own that other beings don't, the one element that often overrides a medical opinion. Jordan's spirit is contagious. It is limitless.

She has qualified to swim in a second Paralympic Games and will be among those favored in London this summer to stand on a podium and have a gold medal slipped around her neck and place her hand over her heart as the national anthem plays.

"I don't think words could ever describe that feeling," Jordan said. "I love my country. My father always taught us to love and respect it, and to be able to compete for it is an incredible thing."

Her father, Dirk, is retired Air Force, and her mother, Nancy, is the person who taught her to never stop attacking those hurdles set in front of her by cerebral palsy, the disorder doctors diagnosed when Cortney was 2.

They said she always would be slow in school and unable to learn with the swiftness of other children. How ironic. She instead became a person who teaches others.

Jordan graduated Coronado High with a weighted 4.7 grade-point average and will begin her senior year in the fall at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a liberal arts college where she continues to pursue her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher; where she tutors foreign students in writing; where she swims with the same passion and purpose that won her a gold, two silvers and a bronze at the Paralympic Games in Beijing four years ago.

A standard definition: The Paralympic Games are a major international multisport event where athletes with physical disabilities compete immediately following their respective Olympic Games.

A clearer one: They are what sportsmanship and fair play and embodying the true spirit of competition is all about.

"Getting to London was always a goal, and it means even more with a schedule of swimming and student-teaching and tutoring at the writing center," Jordan said. "I'm up at 5 a.m. and home at 8 p.m. and then have homework. I don't have a social life. My roommates never see me.

"But I'm as determined as ever. I love what I do. I love helping people learn to write. I want to teach my whole life."

For years, she felt hers was a bad hand dealt in the game of life. She was teased as a child about her condition, about being in a pool and her brain telling her left leg to kick and it never moving below the surface, about being limited to only using her right arm because her left wouldn't fully extend from the water. Kids can be cruel this way. Their heartless remarks can feast on another's challenge.

But then she began to grow and mature and realize that normal wasn't all that exciting, that cerebral palsy made her a better person, a more compassionate one, a more patient and understanding one.

"I'm thankful for it now," Jordan said. "I see the world differently because of it. I'm doing really well now, but my (condition) will get harder to deal with as I age. I'm always in some kind of pain. It hurts to walk and stand in one place. But I can always go to the pool, float in the water and feel better. I will always have that."

The Paralympics are special in that the youngest swimmer who will compete for the U.S. this summer is 14 and the oldest is 50. Jordan turned 21 over the weekend and, not surprisingly, has become a mentor to many of the sport's younger competitors.

She remembers being the same nervous, insecure, anxious child standing on a platform at a national event. There was such an 11-year-old named Amanda at one meet in Ohio, crying before her race, stricken also with cerebral palsy, searching for a hand to guide her.

One did, taking the girl to a warmup pool, swimming in front of her, protecting her from the normal kicks and punches swimmers inadvertently give each other when preparing for a race.

She then stood at the opposite end of the pool when it came time for the girl to compete, cheering her every stroke.

I wonder if those doctors have a clue about the incredible person Cortney Jordan is.

--- Published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on June 28, 2012