Jessica Tinney overcomes challenges to be on Canadian national Para swimming team

Canadian Paralympic Committee

July 31, 2023

Hits the water on day one at world championships

Jessica Tinney
Jessica Tinney

MANCHESTER, England – Jessica Tinney hopes to put a tough season behind her with satisfying performances at the Manchester 2023 Para Swimming World Championships this week.

She got off the blocks on day one Monday in the women’s S5 50m freestyle, and although she didn’t make the final, she was all smiles about the improvement she sought heading into her stronger events later this week. She was less than a second off her personal best.

Last year, the 23-year-old national team member earned her undergraduate degree from Queen’s University in Kingston in kinesiology, landed a job with the Ontario Para Sport Collective, and made her national team debut at the 2022 world championships in Madeira, Portugal.

At those worlds, she impressed with fifth-place finishes in the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke to leave her a strong contender for the 2024 Paralympic team.

But 2023 hasn’t been as smooth. She returned to Toronto after four years in Kingston and is still getting used to life with the focus primarily on her sport.

“It’s been a challenging year for a number of reasons so it is really exciting to be here and do my first race,” said Tinney after her heat on Monday. “I’ve had a rocky year in and out of the pool with some not so great times, but to come here and get a time like that is very encouraging.”

Tinney’s best events in Manchester are to come.

“We’ve been really focusing on my 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley and I’m really looking forward to see what I can do.”

Tinney started swimming at age eight as part of her physio, then entered her first races at age 13. She also dabbled in other sports including wheelchair racing for five years.

“As soon as I started competing in swimming and met friends in the sport, I decided to stick with it,” she said. ‘’I was pretty serious about wheelchair racing too so at one point I had to make the choice.”

She appeared on Swimming Canada’s radar in 2016 and was on the NextGen team, a national program for developmental swimmers. She just missed the cut for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic squad.

“It’s important for me to be nice and loose when I race,” she said. ‘’Obviously I’m serious about the race but I’m best when my mindset is relaxed and having fun.”

Being a student at Queen’s was a big part of Tinney’s life. She was also a Queen’s Facilities employee at the Athletics and Recreation Centre and a research assistant with the Child-Bright KT library.

She decided to study kinesiology to better understand cerebral palsy and physiotherapy which are both omnipresent in her life.

“With my disability, I wanted to learn more about how the body works,” she told the Queen’s Gazette last year. “I’ve always been surrounded by a huge medical support team, so making sense of the language and concepts around me and being able to apply that to my education has been interesting.”

She was also diagnosed with dystonia in 2014, a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract involuntarily. She says it’s been a challenge since then to manage her swimming technique so she can maintain the standards to be among the world’s best.

But if the last two seasons are any indication, nothing can stop Jessica Tinney.

Jessica Tinney

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