For Cortney Jordan, even a short walk can be cause pain. But when she’s in the pool, she’s unstoppable. “It’s really comforting to be in the water,” said Jordan, who was born with cerebral palsy. “Being in the water feels natural to me.”
In late August and early September, the 21-year-old California Lutheran University senior will represent Team USA at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
At the international multisport event, athletes with disabilities compete for bronze, silver and gold medals.
Over a period of 11 days next month, the liberal studies major will compete in six events: the 200-meter individual medley, the 400 freestyle, the 100 freestyle, the 50 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and the 100 breaststroke.
“It’s exciting,” said Jordan, who competed in the 2008 Paralympic Beijing games. “My disability has given me opportunities I’m so thankful for. . . . I’m so lucky.”
But the internationally ranked athlete didn’t always feel lucky.
“When I was younger, I really resented my disability,” said Jordan, who walks with a limp. “A lot of the muscles in my left thigh are paralyzed, and for 13 years, I walked with a brace.
“In middle school, kids aren’t very nice. It was hard.”
Now the captain of her college swim team, Jordan credits her challenges with giving her patience and understanding.
“I’m a really patient person,” she said. “It takes me a long time to do things, so I’m understanding when other people take a long time to do things.”
But swimming the length of the pool takes Jordan no time at all.
In the 2008 Games she won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle.
“It all happened so fast,” said Jordan, who also won a bronze and two silver medals that year. “When the camera came on me and I realized I had won, it was wonderful.”
“Seeing my family after the fact was even more wonderful than winning it,” she added. “And hearing the national anthem play? You can’t beat that.”
This year Jordan hopes to hear the anthem again.
“I just want a medal,” she said with a laugh. “Any color would be great.”
Medal or no medal, competing in the games is the experience of a lifetime, Jordan said.
“Every single person on my team inspires me. They’ve made my life better just by being in it.”
The feeling is mutual. Last month, Jordan was voted one of the American team’s two female captains.
“When I heard, I cried,” she said. “The fact that they see me as a leader? I’m so honored.”
An experienced competitor, Jordan leads by example.
The Henderson, Nev., native trains two to four hours a day, six days a week.
“I do weightlifting, biking, abdominal exercises and, obviously, swimming,” she said. “My right side is able to overcompensate for my (weaker) left side.”
Jordan said the support of her family has been instrumental in her success. “I know everyone says this, but they’re wonderful,” she said. “Tickets are expensive, (but) they always find a way to make it to my meets.”
Jordan’s mother, Nancy, said she wouldn’t miss the London meet for the world.
“There’s something about going to a pool where everyone has something they’ve overcome,” Nancy said. “You see people like that and they’ve always got a smile on their face.”
While Jordan’s not a “type-A personality,” her mother said, she likes to race. She also has empathy for others.
“If she sees someone struggling, she’ll try to help them,” Nancy said. “She knows what it’s like to struggle.”
Juliana Rios, Jordan’s CLU cocaptain, said she’s eager to see her friend compete.
“She works so hard. She totally deserves it,” Rios said.
What’s next for the swimmer?
“I love competing,” said Jordan, who plans to be a teacher. “It would be hard for me to retire. . . .
“We’ll see how London goes.“If I want to, I’ll be back in 2016.”
For now, Jordan will enjoy living life in the fast lane.
“The water is a great place for me to be,” she said. “I feel at home.”
--- Published in the Thousand Oaks Acorn on Aug. 2, 2012