Second in an occasional series on three local athletes honored for Special Olympics Indiana’s 50th anniversary.
Jessica Crook proved she was one of the best Special Olympics swimmers in the world in 2007.
Twelve years later, her accomplishments are being commemorated on trading cards for the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics Indiana.
Crook is not the only Special Olympics Cass County athlete being featured on the commemorative trading cards. Logansport’s Kevin Callaghan, who won bronze in track at the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, is featured on a card. As is Peru’s Dakota White, who is featured playing football to represent the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Games (EKS Games).
In 2007, Crook made Logansport proud by winning three medals as a member of Team USA Aquatics at the World Summer Games in Shanghai, China. She won a gold medal in the 50-meter butterfly. She also earned a silver medal with the 4x25 relay team and had a sixth-place medal in the 50 freestyle.
“Winning a gold medal in swimming and meeting different people from around the world,” Crook said in what she recalls most from the 2007 World Summer Games. “Those times were good times.”
During her time in China, community members and businesses showed Crook support with signs posted throughout the city.
“She trained and trained and trained,” her mother, Kolleen, said. “She’d get up early in the morning and go to the Y."
Jessica was also chosen as an International Global Messenger prior to the 2007 World Summer Games.
"When she decided she wanted to apply to be a Global Messenger, she had already been chosen to go to the World Games, we had no idea that she would be chosen," Kolleen recalled. "It was kind of bad because she didn’t really get to enjoy them both like she should have. But it was a big honor to do both. At the Closing Ceremonies she gave a speech to like 80,000 people. The president of China and all sorts of people were there. They had her on a huge big screen TV. She pulled it off.”
An estimated million people watched Jessica’s speech on TV.
“I was actually sick that day. My nerves were getting to me. I was practicing on what I could say. I was nervous,” she recalled. “I spoke to 80,000 people at the Closing Ceremonies because I was an International Global Messenger. I was one of three picked in the US and there’s only 12 in the whole entire world for Special Olympics.
“I talked about the R word. The word should not be used.”
Jessica looked back at her time in Shanghai, a city of over 26 million people. She said she got an authentic China experience.
“We had a host family and we went to a host town. We had some different foods,” she said. “Lots of noodles. ... The food made me sick.
“The shower was like being in a pig barrel, it was round like a pig barrel. Water went everywhere.”
She added she thought the water in the pool smelled like cigarette smoke.
“I remember swimming in that water and it smelled like smoke. I remember telling the head coach of Team USA, ‘That water smells like smoke, I cannot breathe,’” she said. “I don’t know what it was. But I swam in it.”
Whatever was in the water, Jessica swam very fast in it.
“She wanted out,” her mother added with a laugh.
Kolleen, her husband, John, and son Kevin also made the trip to China a dozen years ago.
“It was crazy. It really made you appreciate the United States when we came back,” Kolleen said. “It was just such a culture shock. In China there’s upper class, lower class, nothing in between.”
Jessica was the first Special Olympian from Cass County to ever make it beyond the state competition.
In her first year at the State Games in 2005, she earned silver and bronze in her first two events but needed a gold medal in her final event, the 50 fly, to qualify for the National Games. Despite the race being the weakest out of her events, she came through, winning the event and moving on to the national competition. Since that day, the 50 fly became her best event, as evidenced by her gold at the World Games.
She earned three gold medals at the 2006 National Summer Games in Ames, Iowa. She won solo victories in the 50 fly and 50 free and was also a member of Team Indiana’s winning 2500 freestyle relay crew.
As an International Global Messenger, she also got to attend the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games in Boise, Idaho.
“I got to meet Tim Shriver, Eunice Shriver, Darius Rucker, Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, John McGinley off of Scrubs,” she said, adding it was an all expenses paid trip by Special Olympics.
"They paid for my hotel room and transportation. I was VIP.”
Jessica is a 2000 graduate of Logansport High School. Now 38, she has lived in a group home in South Bend the last three years. She works at Gordmans Department Store in Mishawaka.
Her parents, brother Kevin, nephew Caleb and niece Chloe still live in Logansport.