Female athletes from Iowa are special in many ways; here at the IGHSAU we work to recognize the “Iowa Girl” and share our enthusiasm for the good that she represents. There is something unique in every Iowa Girl, whether that be leadership, dedication or compassion. Each one has a story worth sharing. 

Welcome to the Iowa Girl Project. Join fellow Iowa Girl Lauren Dufoe as she shares the stories of Iowa Girls who are taking the skills they learned through their education and athletic career above and beyond. These women are making a positive impact on their communities, big and small. They inspire the next generation to compete in sports and conquer the challenges ahead. 

Proud to be an Iowa Girl!



Jessica Heims found her passion, and was not extremely talented at it. But, pursuing her passion led her to where she is today: a two-time Paralympian, the American Record Holder in discus, and going for Gold this month at the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.

Since age 10, Cedar Rapids Prairie alum Jessica Heims has competed in track. “I was very awful when I first started,” she laughed. 

When she began youth sports, Heims played t-ball, soccer, basketball and track.

“It (track) was the most ‘me against me’ sport I played,” she said. It was the concept of always competing against yourself, and having a clear way to measure your progress that sparked Heims’ interest.

Her dedication is admirable all on its own. But maintaining it with one leg makes it even more impressive.

At one-years-old, Heims had her right leg amputated from the knee down due to Amniotic Band Syndrome. Amniotic Band Syndrome is a random congenital birth defect where the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous amniotic bands, restricting blood flow and development in the womb.

For all her life, Heims has worn a prosthetic leg. When she said she wanted to improve in track at a serious level, her friends and family gave her the same encouragement they had all her life.

Because Iowa Girls aren’t just passionate when it’s easy to be. They’re passionate when it’s difficult.

Passion is something that marks every Iowa Girl in Heims’ eyes. “Lots of coaches notice the passion and perseverance of the athletes when they come to Iowa. We have a strong work ethic. We go the extra mile for what we want.”

In addition to her homegrown supporters, Heims found inspiration in her coaches. In both high school and college, each one was invested in their craft. The dedication and passion they poured into their athletes inspired Heims to emulate those things in her own performance.

Part of helping Heims become her very best was creating training that best suited her. Some typical discus practice movements were not in her arsenal, so her coaches found different ways to push her, while not putting her over her limited number of steps each day.

Heims was qualified and ready to go last year for the 2020 Paralympics. Once it was postponed due to COVID-19, that process went back to the beginning for everyone.

After retracing her steps for 365 days, she reclaimed her spot on a shortened roster for Tokyo, and Heims felt she was “finally able to take a nice deep breath” after the uncertainty of her last two seasons.

Now, gearing up for the Paralympics to start on August 24, Heims is ready to “lean into the excitement,” and live in the present as much as she can.

Heims encourages younger Iowa Girls to find their passion, and follow it through. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to chase what you love. You never know where it might take you.

After graduating in May 2021 from the University of Northern Iowa with a biology degree, Heims hopes to continue in athletics for a little while longer.

Every Iowa Girl’s sports story is different, but each one starts with a decision to run after something they love.


Written by Lauren Dufoe. Lauren is the Marketing Assistant Intern for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. She is a graduate of Center Point-Urbana High School and currently attends Coe College where she studies communications and public relations. As a former Iowa high school student-athlete, Lauren is excited to share the stories of the "Iowa Girl" through the Iowa Girl Project.