Jessica Sloan (now Soderquist) only competed at one Paralympic Games, but it sure was a memorable one. And since then her life has been a whirlwind of activity which has landed her in paradise – specifically, the Turks and Caicos Islands.
At the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Sloan – a shy 17-year-old teenager at the time – produced one of the great performances for Canada at the Games. She won six gold medals, all in world record times, in S10 swimming events: the 100m breaststroke, the 200m individual medley, the 50m freestyle, the 100m freestyle and the 4X50 freestyle and 4X100 medley relays.
That tied the record for most gold by a Canadian at one Games set by Martha Gustafson at the 1984 Paralympics.
‘’The individual races are so quick that they are hard to remember at times,’’ said Sloan, born without a left hand. She had won six gold as well two years earlier at the world championships. ‘’The moments you do remember are the before and afters, the camps, the anticipation of the Games, your teammates and of course the first podium.
‘’It was my first opportunity to see a multi-sport Games and it really opened my eyes to the other sports and other athletes. The entire experience was a big thing for me. The whole Games was amazing and the people so supportive.’’
It was a shock to the swimming world that this youngster who appeared primed for world domination in her sport for many years called it a career a few months later. It’s a decision she somewhat regrets now.
‘’If I knew then what I know now I probably would have stuck with it a bit longer,’’ she said. ‘’I struggled with the commitment to the training. I felt I needed a break and I wasn’t having the fun I should with it.
‘’I was a teenager, shy, unsure and I wanted to explore more options.’’
Since 2011, the now 37-year-old has resided in the Caribbean, in Turks and Caicos. She moved south from Toronto to continue her work in the hotel and hospitality industry.
She took up kiteboarding and became so good at it that she was hired to teach it to locals and tourists full time. For the last four years, she’s been a full-time swimming coach and part of the country’s national team staff.
She married local resident Jason Soderquist and the couple have a five-year old boy Asher.
‘’The hotel industry was tough so it was the kiteboarding career which really solidified my decision to stay here,’’ said Sloan, born and raised in Calgary. ‘’It is through kite boarding that I met my husband. After I had my son, I decided I wanted to get into the community more and in addition to my coaching I helped set up a foundation to help all the children on the island learn to swim.’’
Her son is now enrolled in swimming classes so it only seems natural that this aquatic family can make their home near the sea.
The Rewind Feature Series is a set of complementary feature stories about some of the athletes featured in the Paralympic Super Series Rewind, a 10-episode digital series showcasing Canadian moments from the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. For more information of the Paralympic Super Series Rewind, visit: Paralympic.ca/paralympic-super-series.
Previous Rewind Feature Series stories:
BEING CANADA’S FLAG BEARER AT THE PARALYMPIC GAMES AN HONOUR