Jones to Compete in Paralympics in Rio
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Cody Jones, a javelin thrower at California Lutheran University, didn’t make the cut to represent the United States in the Paralympic Games in Rio, and he was OK with it.
He had lots to do this summer, like prepare to be a peer adviser for incoming freshmen at CLU and serve as a youth counselor at his Simi Valley church.
So when the call came Aug. 24, asking if he wanted to be on Team USA after all, he was stunned. Then stoked. When he told his mom, she started crying.
“It was like my brain was going in 1,000 different places all at once,” he said. “It was like, ‘Is this real, how is it going to work out?’ But then I said, ‘Yes, you worked hard, you need to go. Don’t worry about anything else, it will be taken care of.’"
Jones, 20, was born with cerebral palsy that affects the left side of his body. He will compete in Rio de Janeiro, where the Games get underway Wednesday.
Cathy Sellers, high performance director for U.S. Paralympics track and field, told him more slots for U.S. athletes had opened up after the Russian team was disqualified for doping.
Jones left Saturday for Rio, by way of Houston, where the athletes are processed, after holding his final practice on U.S. soil that morning at CLU, where friends and supporters gathered to say goodbye and wish him well.
While he had planned to take the summer off, Jones said he began ramping up his training even before he got the call, just to stay in shape. Now, he said, he is ready to compete at the highest level.
“It’s Rio time,” he said. “I’m back out on the field and threw today and said, ‘Wow, I think that might’ve been further than I threw at trials.”
His personal best is 44.83 meters, ranking him fifth in the world in his classification. He held the North American record until recently, and he competed last year in the world championships in Dohar, Qatar.
“I’m right up there in the mix, so I’m pumped about that,” he said.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 1 when his parents, Chris and Candice Jones, noticed he was doing one-armed Army crawls on his right side. The abnormal brain development that often occurs before birth impacts the ability to control body movement and muscle coordination. Jones says his case is mild.
It did not stop him from participating in sports, and he started playing baseball as a boy. He learned how to catch a ball with his right arm, take off his glove and throw with his right arm.
Later, when he made the varsity baseball team at Simi Valley High School, he would catch the ball with his right hand, flip the ball and glove off his hand at the same time, catch the ball in midair and throw it.
He said he modeled himself after Jim Abbott, who played for the California Angels and other pro teams in the ‘80s and ‘90s despite having been born without a right hand.
Jones came to the attention of the Paralympics when the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about him and his adaptations on the field.
“It was a cool platform to let other people with disabilities know they could adapt,” he said. “And that’s kind of what the Paralympics are about — that life isn’t over if you have a disability. I like saying it’s not so much a disability as it is a different ability.”
Sellers saw the story and contacted Jones, asking him if he would consider trying to become a Paralympian by learning to throw the discus and javelin. He was up for the challenge and when he was accepted to CLU, he joined the track and field team.
He barely missed Rio during the Paralympic trials this summer in North Carolina. Disappointed but not discouraged, he turned his attention to the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Because he didn’t make the team, his family decided to use the money they had saved for Rio to pay for a long-delayed kitchen renovation. They paid for the materials and appliances the day before Sellers called.
Friends encouraged the family to start a Go Fund Me account, and they raised $3,000. His parents and grandmother, Laurie Greene, will meet him in Rio, along with his coach, Justin Puccinelli, formerly of CLU; and friend Allie Hadley, a recent graduate and national javelin champion. His sister, Cassidy, 17, and brother, Caleb, 5, will stay home in Simi Valley.
Friends and family plan to follow his progress online under #TeamCodyJones.
“Now that I’ve made the team and get to go to Rio, that’s not even the icing on the cake,” he said last week. “That’s a whole separate cake with its own frosting.”
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