When Circling the News wrote about Palisadian Jordan Wilimovsky vying for Olympic gold in the open-water distance swim, a reader responded, “What about Jamal Hill? He’s been training at the Maggie Gilbert Aquatics Center since January.”
Competing in the S9 Paralympic swim trials, Hill set an American record in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle in Minnesota in June. He qualified to compete in Tokyo in those two events and the 100-meter backstroke.
Paralympians are elite athletes who have to qualify for the Olympics and must meet set standards of performance.
Hill, 26, told CTN by email that “the higher the number class essentially means the lower perceived amount of disability that an athlete is facing, so as an S9 swimmer, my neuropathy Charcot-Marie-Tooth incapacitates my lower legs and lower forearms, so I swim against athletes with similar disabilities.”
Hill’s coach, Wilma Wong, explained that although Jamal had been diagnosed with CMT, “he originally did not tell me he had the neurological disease. He pretended that nothing was wrong, but I noticed he was getting out of the car and out of the pool like a person who was in a wheelchair. After training with me for a few months, I noticed he was not improving at the same rate as I had expected. I confronted him about the way he was getting out of the pool, and it was at this point he told me.”
Wong continued, “Since the nerves are not firing all the way down to his legs, it’s like a mobile phone trying to reach a cell phone tower and not receiving a signal and yet using up all the batteries.”
She explained that from his knees down, Hill has no neurological sensation. “We have created a new dive for him, a special pistol dive using a pulsating arm movement to compensate for the lack of strength from his calves and feet.”
With that information, Wong, who also coaches the Archer School’s swim team, said she realized that “We needed to train less, and more efficiently, with special equipment to bio hack the body.”
Hill, who is now 6-4 and 185, started swimming in the “mommy and me” program at the Westchester YMCA when he was 10 months old. “I swam and took lessons at that Y until I was six years old, when I joined the swim team at that same YMCA.”
As a young boy, he sometimes struggled with basic movements, but he continued to swim. “After being diagnosed with CMT, I began competing as a sophomore in high school as a member of the Junipero Serra swim team,” Hill said.
He attended Hiram College in Ohio, where he majored in physics. “I competed on that team for three years, and during my time on the team I kept my disability hidden.”
Hill, who lives in Inglewood, started training at Palisades High School in January. “My coach and our team, the Swim Up Hill Victors, were displaced from our home pool in Pasadena because of Covid-19,” he said.
Wong, who has worked with Hill since 2017, praises him. “He is an out-of-the-box thinker,” she said. “He is open to new ideas and is willing to experiment with new training methods and equipment.”
Wong will not accompany Hill to Tokyo because Team USA has its own coaches for the Paralympic swim team.
“I am okay with that because we still have the Paris Olympics and LA 2028,” said Wong, who was a gymnast and coached that sport internationally. As a side she worked in mental performance, health and life coaching.
“A swimmer’s ability to perform at meets begins in the mind,” Wong said.
Representing the USA in the Paralympics “provides me a platform to voice my vision of a world where everyone knows how to swim,” Hill said. “Not only do people know how to swim in swimming pools and are water safe, but those facing the biggest challenges in our world, such as financial challenges and social challenges in an international community, learn how to swim in life!”
“They learn how to stay afloat and survive in the currents of life and maybe even a few of them learn how to walk on water,” Hill said. “That’s why this Paralympic platform is so special to me.”
In the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis, Hill was second in the 100 freestyle, and in the 2018 U.S. Paralympics National Championships he was first in the 50 and 100 freestyle and second in the 100 backstroke.
His parting words to Circling the News were “I LOVE OUR PALISADES FAMILY!”
Okay, Pacific Palisades, another member of our family will be in the Olympics. Let’s cheer on Hill!