Norfolk Paralympic record breaker reflects on strange times in Tokyo

Jessica-Jane Applegate in an empty Tokyo.

Jessica-Jane Applegate in a deserted Tokyo. - Credit: Jessica-Jane Applegate

A Paralympic gold medallist swimmer has reflected on her success at the Tokyo games and described how she missed out on birthday celebrations with her family and coped with stringent Covid measures in Japan.

Great Yarmouth's Jessica-Jane Applegate bagged one gold and two bronze medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and broke a world record in the process.

Now back at her home in Yarmouth, the elite athlete shared her thoughts on her Paralympic success, especially with teammates Reece Dunn, Bethany Firth and Jordan Catchpole, who collectively won gold and broke the world record for the S14 4x100m Freestyle Relay.

"It was amazing to work together as a team and manage to break our previous world record," Jessica-Jane said.

"I was super happy with my leg as I managed to swim almost a whole second faster than I did for the previous record."

Handout photo dated 28/08/2021 provided by ParalympicsGB/imagecomms of Great Britain's Jessica Apple

Golden glory for Reece Dunn, Bethany Firth, Jessica-Jane Applegate and Jordan Catchpole in S14 4x100m Freestyle Relay. - Credit: PA

Wanting to look after her mental health during the lockdown, Jessica-Jane was the only member of the GB squad who did not attend a national performance centre as part of her training.

She said: "I spent my whole winter training in a swim spa and only managed to gain access to a swimming pool in April.

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"It was a really difficult decision to make and it wasn't ideal.

"But I don't think I would have coped in isolation throughout the winter shut in a hotel room.

"I had to do what was right for me."

Jessica-Jane Applegate holding her Gold medal.

Jessica-Jane Applegate bagged the Gold medal for her record-breaking performance in the S14 4 x 100m mixed freestyle relay with teammates Reece Dunn, Bethany Firth and Jordan Catchpole. - Credit: Jessica-Jane Applegate

Jessica-Jane shared her experience of her time with the athletes during the new-normal at the games.

She said: "Although it looked as though Team GB spent lots of time together, we barely saw each other.

"We were isolated in separate rooms for the first two weeks. 

"We were in flats of six athletes for the final week and a half.

"As soon as an athlete had finished racing, they were flown home.

"I was pretty much there from start to finish, so I watched everyone leave."

"The regulations made it difficult for competitors to communicate as well.

"But I have a huge amount of respect for my competitors - making it through a Covid-restricted Games takes something pretty special."

"The pandemic had a huge affect on our training.

"We weren't able to mix with the volunteers, we weren't unable to leave the village and experience the culture.

"I'm super grateful that I managed to get to Tokyo.

"But it wasn't like any other games or anything that I have been used to.

"It was all a bit strange."

Jessica-Jane Applegate standing on top of a Tokyo 2020 sign.

Jessica-Jane Applegate enjoyed the experience of Tokyo 2020. But restrictions prevented her from seeing much of the city. - Credit: Jessica-Jane Applegate

Jessica-Jane turned 25 while she was competing in Tokyo. Due to the ongoing restrictions in Japan, she was unable to celebrate with friends and family.

As soon as the world record-holder made it back to the UK, she was able to celebrate her belated birthday with her family.

"I came home a day early and nobody knew except my mum.

"She invited family round for Sunday dinner and then I came in and surprised them.

"We had cake and I was able to open my cards and presents with them."

Now that the swimming superstar is back on home shores, she is taking some time out from her sport before aiming for more success in the pool.

She said: "I am going to have a little time out, but not a lot as it's a really busy year next year.

"I need to start my preparations for trials for the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

"I would love to make both teams as I have never been part of a Commonwealth team before."

Jessica-Jane Applegate by the Olympic pool.

Jessica-Jane Applegate won Bronze in S14 100m Backstroke, S14 200m Freestyle and won Gold (and broke the world record) in S14 4 x 100m mixed freestyle relay. - Credit: Jessica-Jane Applegate

Next year will be the first time female S14 swimmers will be allowed to compete at the Commonwealth Games, and Jessica-Jane said it would be a "dream come true" if she made the team.

Jessica-Jane also has her eyes on long-term goals.

"Paris 2024 is the one," she said.

"I will do my best to get there. I would just like to get one good run of training in before a Paralympic Games with no accidents, operations or health problems."

The Paralympic performer said she was incredibly grateful for the hard work and help from the following people: Alex Pinniger at City of Norwich Swimming, Jim Rumley at BHtubs, BBC Radio Norfolk and her friends and family