You hold the North and South American record for your Paralympic javelin classification. You represented the United States at the World Championships last year, and you may be on the way to the Rio Paralympics in September. What’s your next goal?
Obviously, to win gold. That’s what we’re all going for, if I make the team.
But if I throw a personal best at Rio and someone beats me, I can’t be too mad. I’m hoping that personal best is somewhere above 50 meters.
That would be up from just under 45 meters.
Yeah, to throw something like a javelin an extra 15 or 16 feet – that could take years. Some pro athletes, Olympians and Paralympians are excited if they increase a meter or two over a season or two.
So why are you setting the bar so high?
I still need to push myself further. In my classification, the distance for gold will be about 50 meters.
What can you still do better, technically?
With the javelin, you’re running in order to get as much speed as possible into the throw. You want to capture all that speed and energy by blocking your left foot – basically running as fast as you can and then stopping. That isn’t good for your body, but it’s what you need to do.
The second thing I’m working on is my upper body flexibility so I can hit the javelin position, which is a really long stretch. Basically, I’m trying to be like a human slingshot.
How’s it going?
Just this week I’ve found some good things to help my block.
I try to use my left side as much as I can, and that actually helps with my C.P. [cerebral palsy]. If I don’t focus on using my left side, I won’t use it, I’m just so right-side dominant. If you don’t use muscles, you lose them.
So is your sport a way of adapting, in other parts of your life?
Exactly. I naturally do a lot more things right-handed, but I think it’s cool to challenge myself. I’ll get in my car and try to put my seatbelt on with my left hand. If I really try just with my left hand, it’ll take about two minutes to put a seatbelt on. That’s just how it is. It’s kind of fun.
I’m still learning what my left side can do. I don’t want my right side to get way stronger, because that could be bad – looking like the Hulk on one side and Captain America before the serum on the other. (Laughs.) That could hurt my body even more. So it’s all about finding what’s right for my body but pushing through.
When were you diagnosed with C.P., and how did you manage it?
When I was a year old, my parents were curious about why I was doing one-armed Army crawls on my right side. Then I got diagnosed with C.P. and it was like, Oh, is he ever going to walk or be a productive member of society? That was their fear at the time.
I’m very mild left hemiplegic. I went to physical therapy until I was 7. By then I was making all-star baseball teams and didn’t need it anymore. I got a lot of attention for playing outfielder at Simi Valley High School almost with my left hand behind my back.
And now you’re a Paralympian, as well as a double major and a student senator. What keeps you motivated to improve your throwing?
My teammates are great – Cal Lutheran and Team USA both. We all try to help each other. I have coaches here like Justin Puccinelli [’13] who have gone above and beyond their job descriptions to help me. I also have Team USA coaches who have experience with C.P.
At the Doha World Championships, I watched one teammate improve in the high jump by 20 centimeters, which is huge. Just to see his hard work pay off made me want to work harder. Or to see David Brown, the world’s fastest totally blind runner.
What should people know about the Paralympics?
I know that there’s somewhat of a stigma about the Paralympics being lesser than the Olympics. One cool thing about the United States – and a bunch of other countries – is that the Paralympics and the Olympics are under one branch and united as one team.
What I’ve seen from the performances of my team is that it’s all elite-level stuff. And I’m hoping to join that. I’m hoping to rise up to that challenge and be that.
Updated Aug. 31, 2016: Jones will compete in Rio. He joins fellow Cal Lutheran graduate Cortney Jordan ’13, a highly decorated swimmer who is to participate in her third Paralympics.