Track & Field

Lewis turns to late mentor’s son as coach

  • Home comforts: wheelchair sprinter Jessica Lewis powers her way to winning the women’s para 200 metres during the Bermuda Invitational Area Permit Meet at the National Stadium on Friday night. The two-times Paralympian also claimed victory in the para 100 event (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Jessica Lewis believes she is forming a strong athlete-coach relationship with her new trainer Curtis Thom — the son of her longtime mentor Ken Thom, who died last summer.

The 25-year-old lost her “one-in-a-million” coach Ken when he died in a scuba-diving accident in Cape Town, South Africa. Curtis, a three-times Paralympian, has since started coaching his father’s small stable of wheelchair sprinters.

Lewis claimed wins in the women’s para 100 and 200 in her first major meet under Curtis’s guidance at the Bermuda Invitational Area Permit Meet at the National Stadium last Friday.

The Bermudian believes her new coach’s experience as an accomplished athlete will prove beneficial as she bids to qualify for the Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru, next year.

“Curtis has helped take over our little group,” said Lewis, who was introduced to wheelchair racing when Ken and Curtis visited the island for a sports expo at WindReach Bermuda in 2006.

“I’ve been his team-mate for the past eight years and it’s been a good transition.

“It’s definitely different going from a team-mate to a coaching relationship. But one of the greatest things is that he knows the athlete side of it. Before [the 200 race] he looked at me and said, ‘I know you’re in your head, get out of it’. It’s kind of cool for him to have that perspective as well.”

Curtis finished third in the men’s para 200 and 400 at the Area Permit Meet, which was his final outing as an athlete as he turns his attention to coaching Lewis and her team-mates.

“He’s actually in the process of retiring,” said Lewis, who is based in Mississauga, Canada. “These are his last races, in Bermuda.”

Lewis has revealed she opted against competing at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, last month because the only events available to her were the 1,500 and the marathon. She said she did not feel confident of being competitive at those longer distances.

“I did have a spot in the 1,500 but talking to Ken at the time, we just thought I wouldn’t be very competitive at this point,” she said.

“Maybe at the next one [in Birmingham, England, in 2022] I could have more time to train for it and be more prepared.”

Lewis will spend this season staying active as she looks to qualify for the Parapan Am Games and the World Para Athletics Championships next year.

“I’ll be heading to Switzerland at the end of the month for a few competitions,” said Lewis, who won bronze in the 100 at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in 2015.

“We will then go to the Canadian Nationals. This year is a bit of a slower year, just because there’s no big competition.”

Although the wet conditions on Friday were not conducive to fast times, Lewis was encouraged by her pair of performances, winning the 100 in 19.60sec and 200 in 34.10.

“I don’t think I’ve raced or even trained in the rain for quite a few years,” Lewis said after the 200.

“I was a little bit worried. A wet track does effect us.

“We use what’s called klister [a soft wax] and we put it on our gloves. It helps us stick a bit more.

“This track is soft surface, which is tough for us because we kind of sink into it a bit more. Having a wet track and a slow track makes you work a bit harder.”