The youngest track and field athlete on the middle school team has not only earned three medals in her first competition, but also overcame several challenges to get there.
A Grade 7 student at Skeena Middle School, Jessica Hamel has had a prosthetic leg and a shorter left arm since birth, and though she felt self conscious in her first competition in Kamloops earlier this year, she did not let that stop her.
“I had to wear capris because it was very warm, and I was very nervous showing off my leg,” Jessica said. “I’m not really used to it… but it was awesome because there were a lot of people, even people I didn’t know, who were cheering for me.”
Coach Megan Reid, who is also Jessica’s step-mom, said it has been great this season to see her step out to compete, something she has avoided in the last few years.
“This was a big step for her to go out to these competitions. She is definitely nervous about appearing different to other athletes and other parents,” Reid said. “I was really pleased that she took that step to make herself more comfortable and compete as she is, and not worry about what other people are thinking.”
Jessica took home three medals from Kamloops, winning silver in javelin and bronze in both discus and the 100-metre dash.
“It was pretty cool! I was pretty proud of myself,” she said.
Since she joined the team, Jessica has competed in three competitions, first in Prince George then Prince Rupert and then Kamloops, growing more comfortable and improving each time.
She said she joined the team because it sounded fun and was inspired by her step-mom Reid.
“She inspired me to get into track and field and I am really glad she did. She talked about it and how awesome it was, so I was just like, ‘okay, I am going to join,’” Jessica said.
Training and competing in running, long jump, javelin and discus, Jessica said she does it because she is pretty good at throwing and she enjoys being active.
“After I do something that uses energy, I feel really good after,” she said. “Like going for a run. I feel really good after doing that… and being with friends doing it, it makes it a lot better… It’s good being on a team.”
Jessica said her family and friends have both helped to shape her outlook in life.
Her team mates Trai Zips and Meghan Bowles said Jessica is fun, positive and has a good sense of humour.
“She is very encouraging if you are nervous,” Bowles said. “She is a very happy person. I don’t ever see her frown, she is always smiling… I think she is liked by many.”
Her dad, Dan Hamel, was proud and supportive of his daughter and said she is very positive and laid back. “She lets a lot roll off her shoulders,” he said, adding that she can be self-conscious at times, but she is also a social butterfly.
“Track and field is a good fit for her,” he said. “It is great, because it has that team aspect, but it is also about getting a personal best. It’s not about competing. The focus is that they are there to have fun and get a personal best.”
At the same time, the team is such a big part of the sport and is great because it connects youth with an active lifestyle from different grades and provides healthy role models, he said.
Sharing experiences through team trips and competitions is a great way to build friendships, which can be especially beneficial when they transition to a new school, he said. “When we go on these field trips, they all bind together, and then outside of track and field, they have each other’s back as well,” he said.
Jessica transitioned from Uplands Elementary School into the larger Skeena Middle School last September and said that her track and field team helped with that.
“When I first came to Skeena I was really nervous,” Hamel said. “I wasn’t used to the big school, and I was worried that I was going to get pushed around in the halls… but it worked out, I found some friends,” she said.
Her dad and step-mom Reid said that the year has also made a visible difference in Jessica’s self-confidence.
“She is definitely braver. I see that in all aspects of school and everything,” Reid said.
“She is more confident talking to people.”
Looking back, Jessica said she has really enjoyed the track and field season, and is sad that will wrap up soon and that she won’t see her friends as much over the summer.
“It’s really fun doing these activities with your friends and competing,” she said. “When you join a team you just open yourself up to more people and you have more friends and they really do help you a lot. I really love having them around.”