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Spokane Paralympian overcomes mental health struggles to train for 2021 games

After the 2020 Paralympics were canceled, Jaleen Roberts struggled with the loss of her dream. Now, she wants to help other athletes struggling with mental health.

SPOKANE, Wash. — When the news broke last spring that both the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo were postponed until this summer, athletes around the world were in shock. 

For an aspiring track and field Paralympian in Spokane this news was devastating. At one point she was never planning on racing again.

Jaleen Roberts was born with cerebral palsy, however her disability didn't stop her from qualifying for the Paralympics in track and field.  

The games were only six months out when Jaleen Roberts learned they were postponed.  Even when the world didn’t know if and when the games would go on, Jaleen and her Coach David Greg didn’t lose focus. 

“I am still going to train as if it’s happening,” Roberts said last year. Five days a week you could still find Jaleen working hard and staying dedicated.  

She remembers it happening all so fast. “I gave myself a few days before speaking with anyone or doing any interviews because I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak without getting choked up,” said Roberts. 

Jaleen began struggling both mentally and physically with the loss of a dream she’d been working so hard for. 

“At some points I genuinely didn’t think that I would make it.” After battling severe anxiety and depression, she found the courage to get help.

“In March when I was probably at my lowest, I decided to voluntarily check myself into a psychiatric hospital for a couple days. Sometimes people forget that athletes are human. They have mental illness too.” 

She is now looking to help other young athletes that could be struggling with something similar.

“That is why I am so vocal about my mental health. I don’t want anyone to make a decision that is so drastic and irreversible,” Roberts said. 

She uses social media as a platform to share her journey of overcoming one of the hardest years of her life. 

“That is why I share my story on my Instagram post. I’m being open and honest about that. My mental health has gotten better and I have taken the right steps to continue working on it. It’s a work in progress.”

She says on the other side of 2020 she is a lot stronger on and off the track. 

“I think if the Paralympics happened last year, I don’t think I would have competed as well as if they happened this year.”

When thinking about quitting she holds on to the deeper meaning of why she joined track in the first place. 

“That for me, has always been to be that person younger girls with disabilities look up to because that wasn’t something I had when I was younger.” 

Now Jaleen is taking it one day and jump at a time towards her ultimate goal this summer at the Paralympic games.