Someone You Should Know: Special Olympics athlete brings home the gold for South Dakota

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:26 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Wanting to make her home state proud, Jessica Walker took home the gold medal in the 400M run at the Special Olympics USA Games.

“Oh, it was awesome, when I was running across and when I got to the finish line I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I had that in me. I didn’t know I could do it,” said Jessica.

“‘Oh my gosh, I was jumping up and down and said, ‘Go, Jessica, go! We’re from South Dakota!’ And I gave her a big hug, I was so happy, I was jumping up and down,” said Jessica’s mother, Sandy Janis.

She also placed 2nd in the 4x100M Relay and 4th in the Running Long Jump.

“It’s pretty wonderful to see a child grow up and then win a gold medal in Florida! I mean literally, there were 600 people just from Florida that were there. It was fifty states, and 10 different countries, and Jessica, my daughter wins the gold medal in the 400′s, it’s incredible. Then she wins the 4 by 100 silver! It’s just wonderful. I don’t know anybody that could win a gold in the 400, that’s a long time to run around the track and then win the gold! Who does that?! From South Dakota,” said Jessica’s father, Daniel Walker.

Each competitor is nominated to attend the Special Olympics USA Games, and only 17 people were chosen from South Dakota.

Other states sent 90 or more to compete. Jessica practiced for about 6 months.

“And then she just practiced and practiced,” said Janis.

“We had to start pushing her to really run. Because I had her run this track, and I was timing her on this track right here to get her time faster,” said Walker.

She attributes her drive and success to her parents.

“My dad he supports me and my mom, she was out there, and she’d seen the look on my face and the reaction of how I did out there. It’s truly amazing to have some wonderful parents support me in this,” said Jessica.

“I just told her to be strong and do her best,” said Janis.

Jessica has always been drawn to sports with a passion for running.

“She’s always been kind of athletic, she’s always played outside, liked to run, you know, she’s always been that way since she was young,” said Walker.

“I like running because it keeps me strong and it gives me a hobby to run,” said Jessica.

She overcame her self doubts and challenged herself to conquer what she feared.

“Jessica is special needs, she’s got a cognitive learning disability but she’s strived almost past it before she was in a shell, kind of scared, now she has come out of her shell, the change in her just the last 3 or 4 years is incredible, sports has done that for her. She’s gotten stronger mentally and physically,” said Walker.

“If you have dreams; fight for them. You can do it. You just have to put faith in yourself, you can do it,” said Jessica.

Jessica’s future looks bright in whatever she chooses to accomplish next.

“I want to keep running to get stronger and try my best in things. This was truly amazing because I got all this support, it was just truly amazing that I could do something like that, so I hope I can do it again someday,” said Jessica.

“I’m proud and wondering what the future is going to be, I’m excited for her,” Janis.

“I am very proud of myself, I didn’t know I could do that, I didn’t know I could go out there and show them who South Dakota really was. South Dakota is strong so I wanted to represent South Dakota as being strong and I can do something like that. It was truly amazing and I’m really blessed,” said Jessica.

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