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Paralympic legend retires before Paris Games

After competing at four Paralympics and six major games, Jessica Tuomela calls it a career

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Jessica Tuomela, who represented Canada at four Paralympics as a swimmer and triathlete, has decided to retire rather than push through to the upcoming Paralympic Games in Paris.

“I just feel it is time. I just didn’t feel like I could train the way I wanted to in order to race at the level that I want to be at,” Tuomela said in a release from Triathlon Canada today. “I know we could have made it to the Paris 2024 Games, but for me it wasn’t about just qualifying. It was about going out and representing Canada, doing the best I could and that includes fighting for the podium. I just feel that is not in the cards for me anymore and it is time to move on.”

Jessica Tuomela and guide Maranne Hogan take fifth at Paralympics

Tuomela competed on the national swim team from 2000 to 2008. She won a silver medal in the 50 m freestyle at the 2000 Paralympic Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and qualified for the Paralympics in 2004 and 2008. She stopped swimming in 2008 and went to massage college and followed that up with a Performance Psychology diploma course at the University of Edinborough. She eventually decided she was up for a new challenge and reached out to Triathlon Canada Para coach Carolyn Murray. It wasn’t long before she had moved to Victoria to train.

“It was abosolutely terrifying. Just think about that – learning a whole new sport as a blind person. There were so many things to learn. I didn’t know about clipping my shoes in the pedals, or not to wear wide-legged pants on the bike. I couldn’t look at photos or see other people riding bikes,” Tuomela said. “I could not run five kilometres without stopping and even swimming in open water was terrifying, but I picked the sport because it was hard, and I couldn’t do it.”

Para triathlon takes the stage at the Commonwealth Games

Tuomela did her first race in 2017 (with former national team athlete Ellen PEnnock), and a year later took her first World Para Triathlon Series win in Edmonton in 2018 (with guide Lauren Babineau). In 2019 she took bronze at the World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland alongside guide Marianne Hogan, one of the world’s premier trail runners. The pair would compete in Tokyo, too, finishing fifth. In 2022 Tuomela competed at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, where she took the bronze medal with guide Emma Skaug.

“Wearing the maple leaf and representing Canada was my life for so long,” Tuomela said. “It was important to me, or I wouldn’t have done it that long so I’m going to miss that for sure. I’m also going to miss doing cool things for Canada.”

“I’ll probably never to be able to say thank you or express how grateful I am to each of them for racing with me throughout years, but also for the things we all learned working together,” she continued. “I’m gonna miss my teammates. We had a really cool and strong team. I was scared learning this sport. It was all unknown, but that staff team is world class and the reason for my success. I have a bit of the same fear right now (moving on from sport), but I know I have all of these wonderful people as friends for life that I’ll always be able to lean on.”