Jacqui Kapinowski is a two-time American Paralympian who competed in Wheelchair Curling at the 2010 Winter Paralympics and in Rowing in the 2016 Summer Paralympics. Jacqui has been an inspiration to sportspeople from all over the world, through her determination to succeed in the face of many personal challenges. Jacqui has been married to Harry for 29 years, and they have two sons.
I got into rowing after the 2010 Winter Paralympics. I was invited to the OKC National High Performance Center for Rowing. I spoke with my husband and he said “if you don’t go you”ll never know!” So I got on a flight to Oklahoma where I did well – I was told I had potential to qualify for Team USA, and was asked to move and relocate.
I went back home and had a discussion with the family. The next thing I knew I moved to OKC temporarily to train! I’m still here rowing and training, living in Florida which works out well because the climate means that I can train all year long.
Who or what inspire you?
What inspires me? Inspiration is everywhere. LIFE inspires me. For me the unknown. I find inspiration in the everyday.
Who inspire me? My parents, my husband and children. They are my pillars of strength. They guide and give me courage to battle any obstacles in life – which we all have!
How has rowing sat next to you other sports?
I LOVE rowing and being out on the water is so peaceful, but also painful all at the same time.
I also love to compete in other sports. I have been blessed to have been on three USA teams and to participate at nine World Championships.
In Curling, I earned a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Paralympics. I do love the sport of Curling – it’s much harder than it looks! Participating in it was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. I met some of the most amazing people from around the world whilst doing it.
In Triathlon, I was honoured to make the USA Team in 2014, and earned a Bronze Medal (CHECK – in the World Championships?). Unfortunately, I had to step away when I got back home. I was diagnosed with cancer. That was devastating news. After my surgery and treatment, I received a phone call from US Rowing inviting me to a training camp. From there I went onto to win the national title, won the Paralympic trials and also qualified to represent the USA at the 2016 Paralympics.
What are your current goals, and what are your plans were to achieve them?
My goal for now is to train to row across the Gulfstream, 85 miles from Bimini in the Bahamas to Lakeworth, Florida June 14, 2019. It’s for organisation called “Crossing for a Cure”, which supports Cystic Fibrosis.
We will be rowing 35 miles this upcoming weekend in the ocean, to train for it! I’m still learning how to row my Swift Coastal shell. It’s so different to my Swift Racing shell – a huge difference! Ocean rowing is a whole different style. It’s much more challenging! I’ll see how my training goes, in the hope that I may be able to compete for a spot with the USA Rowing Team one last time before I retire.
Achieving your goal takes commitment, hard work and support from your family and friends.
When you have a goal you need to have a plan. To obtain that goal you need to stick with your plan. There will be days where you may not be able to complete or obtain your dream – that’s okay as long as you did your best. We all have off days. If it was easy everyone would be doing it!
I simply love be challenged and to push myself to be the best possible version of me.
Were there any problems or challenges that you had which needed to be overcome?
We all have challenges in our lives. It’s all about how you how you choose to handle or deal with your adversity. There will be many challenges over the time in your life. At times it won’t be easy or you don’t think you’re going to get through a difficult situation, but eventually things have a way of working themselves out. It’s amazing how strong and resilient we can be as humans, especially during those difficult moments in life.
I choose to fight everyday. I’ve survived bacterial meningitis twice, and cancer. I’m so grateful to be alive today. The bacteria that went from my spine to my brain left me with a rare progressive disease that only affects one in a million people. I was diagnosed with Stiff Persons Syndrome at the age of 35. It’s a rare disease that’s both progressive and has no cure.
When I was over in London competing with the USA Triathlon Team, I was quite sick and developed a horrible cough. When I returned home I decided to get an x-ray and that’s when I found out I had cancer.
When I was invited to the rowing camp in 2014, I had just completed my first Ironman race, and it helped me to get through the cancer. All the training kept my mind busy instead of thinking about it. This month I’m celebrating 5 years being cancer free!
How did Swift Racing boats fit into your plans or strategy at this point?
When I went to the rowing camp in 2014 I didn’t feel like I belonged and I felt that I was too old to row anymore. It really upset me. I called my old coach Matt Muffelman and I told him how I felt. He told me that if I left the camp it would be the biggest mistake ever. So I decided to stay. On the very next day of camp, I was asked if I would like to try a Swift Racing Shell. The owner of Swift Racing, Gareth Gruenbaum, came out in the launch along with coach Dobson.
Both complimented me on my rowing, which made me much more confident! By the end of the week of the rowing camp, Gareth sponsored me with a Swift Racing shell and wished me “good luck with your training.” I told him that I would work hard and make him proud. Gareth responded “you’ve already made me proud”. Gareth holds a special place in my heart.
What have you learned from these experiences?
I feel that I have learned more from my losses than from my successes. I have learned to be smarter in my training in order to avoid injuries. As I get older it’s a whole different training schedule!
I’ve had 4 broken ribs from this sport. On one occasion it was so bad that I went to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe! I had x-rays, ultra-sounds, CT scans etc. and the doctor told me that there was nothing broken – just an intercostal strain which would take few weeks to heal. So I went back to training after a couple of weeks off, and it was painful. The following month I went for my Pet Scan and my doctor called me to tell me that I was cancer-free, but that I had a couple of broken ribs! All this made sense as to why I wasn’t getting better. I had only made the situation worse! It hurt my career going into the 2016 Paralympics.
I couldn’t change what happened, so all I could do was focus on getting my ribs completely healed so that I could get back into training. I had lost so much time due to the injury – but experiences like this are all part of learning experiences in life, and listening to your body.
I know that 2020 will be my last shot at the Paralympics – there will be no more “four more years”. I’m hoping to be prepare to get on the start line, and then to do my best. Whatever the final result is, it will be what it will be! I’ve had an amazing career. I have competed in 90 marathons – I was an avid runner and loved to compete in marathons. I ran 19 marathons as a runner, with the rest in my racing chair.
I earned a Bronze medal at the 2008 Berlin Marathon in Germany in the Pushrim Division. And only today I was accepted into the New York City Marathon and will be competing for and representing Achilles International – an amazing organisation which promotes mainstream sports for people with disabilities. My plan is to go back to all the races I ran years ago and complete my last 10 to hit 100 marathons!
How has your relationship with Swift Racing developed?
Gareth has always believed in me, and he gave me a shot at my dream of becoming a Summer Paralympian. That dream was surpassed and I became both a Winter and a Summer Paralympian. Swift Racing has now sponsored me with a Swift Racing coastal boat for my Gulf Stream crossing soon. I feel so blessed to be sponsored by Swift Racing.
What are your most memorable results, achievements and proudest moments to date?
I have had many highlights and achievements in my life. My greatest achievement would be my children. As far as my athletic career goes, it would be meeting and making friends from all over the world! And to have the opportunity to represent my country. There’s no feeling to describe the joy you feel knowing that you have succeeded and reached your goal. Hard work pays off!
Also, to have my husband right next to me every step of the way, with the wonderful memories we made travelling all over the world. It’s been an amazing ride. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
And I will always be grateful to Swift Racing for all the years of support and sponsorship.