Kent’s Roberts shines on world track stage with 3 medals

After earning three medals at the World Para Athletic Championships last month, Jaleen Roberts has her eyes set on the 2020 Paralympics.

The 2017 Kent-Meridian High School graduate brought home from London silver in the long jump and bronze in the 100 and 200 meters. She also competed in the 400.

Roberts, 18, who has cerebral palsy, qualified for her first World Para Athletic Championships, which took place July 14-23, at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in Los Angeles in June. She got interested in Para Athletics after meeting coaches from ParaSport Spokane at the Washington state high school track and field meet last year.

In high school, Roberts, who was also a two-time state-qualifier in wrestling, competed in the ambulatory division, which is open to athletes with physical disabilities. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association created the division in 2016.

At first, Roberts said she wasn’t sure she wanted to participate in the ambulatory races because she didn’t want to highlight her disability. But she said she enjoyed competing in the Para Athletics championships.

“It gave me the opportunity to embrace my abilities instead of focusing on the pity and sadness than can come with a disability,” she said.

Roberts likes that the Para Athletics competition is divided into classifications based on the type and severity of an athlete’s disability, while in high school track all ambulatory competitors raced together.

At the world championships, Roberts met and talked to athletes from around the world including Great Britain’s Georgina Hermitage, who is the world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400, and Xiaoyan Wen, of China, who has the record in the long jump.

“It showed me how similar everyone is in every part of the world and how people tend to focus so much on differences when there are so many similarities between different countries,” Roberts said.

After the long jump competition, Roberts traded jerseys with Wen, as a reminder that she hopes to one day break Wen’s record. She also got a jersey from a Japanese athlete as motivation to make it to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Trading jerseys is tradition among Para Athletic competitors.

Roberts plans to attend Western Washington University in Bellingham in the fall and hopes to train with the school’s track and field team to prepare for future Para Athletic competitions.

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