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Pushing for the Paralympics: Jillian Elwart

With the Tokyo Paralympic start date now delayed until August 2021, a full year after they were originally slated to begin, we thought it would be a good idea to launch what we hope will be a series of articles focusing on a handful of athletes who are vying for spots on their country’s Paralympic team. 

In this first series of articles, we will introduce and get to know the athletes, look at their chosen sport, see what kind of training they’re doing, and also find out what effect quarantine and the delay has had on each of them…

Tokyo Paralympics moved to 2021
Tokyo 2021

Jillian Elwart

Hailing from North Little Rock, Arkansas, Jillian is a 37 year old American athlete who specialises in the 200m kayak sprint. Born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, she required numerous corrective surgeries as an infant and was rehabbed as an above the right knee amputee, whilst also having corrective syndactyly surgery and missing two digits on her right hand.

Jillian first discovered kayaking whilst on a white water holiday in Mexico five years ago; quickly following this up with a trip to the Endeavor Games where she tried out kayak sprinting and was instantly hooked! She was soon competing nationally and in 2018, after several impressive performances, was asked if she’d be interested in making the jump to international competitions.

An average week of training for Jillian consists of:

  • Friday-Monday, kayaking. Focussing on base fitness and technique, longer/slower sessions.
  • Tuesday-Thursday, weight training with some crossfit. This is followed by high intensity interval training on an ergometer.
  • Wednesday night, pilates.

Whilst this training requires a high level of dedication, Jillian is always mindful to balance activity with recovery, so as to keep muscle and general body stress as low as possible.

The Covid-19 outbreak affected the world of sport and competition in an unprecedented manner, although Jillian was initially unfazed by the quarantine, believing it would give her more time to work out and focus on her sporting goals. However, the psychological effects of it all soon became apparent, and after a few weeks Jillian completely lost her routine and began sleeping excessively. This lasted throughout April and May, with very little training taking place during these months. It wasn’t until June when Jillian refocused herself, setting up a new training regime and schedule which she is determined to stick to! 

One of the things helping Jillian in her training is her Active Hands General Purpose Gripping Aid which she uses for weight training, pull-ups and when using the ergometer. She had previously struggled with each of these aspects, as her condition means that she has poor grip in her right hand, which also fatigues quickly. This left her struggling to hold weights heavier than 5kg and instead she was forced to use much lighter ankle weights which didn’t give her the level of training she needed. 

On top of this, Jillian also uses her gripping aid every time she takes to the water, both when training and competing. Before discovering these aids, she had previously experiment with numerous different strapping configurations, none of which were successful. Thankfully, by attaching the Active Hands aid, she is able to securely hold onto the paddle and pull it through the water with as much force as necessary.

As far as the Tokyo Paralympics are concerned, there are 10 quotas (places) available for each division of the kayak sprint. There are still 4 quotas up for grabs in Jillian’s division and she is currently in intense training for the competition in May 2021 that will decide who gets the final few spots!

“The gripping aid allows me the ability to train my right side with the full effort that I train my left.  I can also grab my paddle with confidence that it is secured to my hand.”

Gareth Herridge