UPPER GWYNEDD >> She was just four years old…
“My parents were tired of me climbing around the house,” Jaylene Everett remembers with a smile. “So they threw me in gymnastics. Good choice, obviously.
“I loved the little gym that I went to,” she gushes. “I was so young, and they just let you climb all over the place, jump on the trampolines. It was so care free, and it got all my energy out, so my parents loved it. So it was just really fun, running around as a little kid.”
It wasn’t long before everyone who got to see Everett compete could tell she had a gift.
By sixth grade, she gave up soccer so she could practice gymnastics every night.
Asked what has stood out the most about Everett over the years, her longtime coach at Spirit Gymnastics, Shannon Evans, said “her determination. She was always at practice. She never missed practice. She would be a leader for the other girls.
“If we needed her to talk about how important attendance was, how important conditioning and strengthening was, she would have the conversations with the little kids.”
Both a standout and a leader to others, Everett is on her way. Wednesday night, the Souderton Area High School senior signed her letter of intent to attend Temple University next year on a full scholarship.
In addition to her abilities and her tremendous value as a teammate, what makes Everett’s journey particularly unique is what she has had to overcome.
Along with the vault, the uneven bars, and the balance beam, Everett has had a much bigger obstacle to conquer. Everett has spent her entire gymnastics career being legally blind in her left eye.
“Just knowing that of her, and that she’s able to do this sport, is mind-blowing,” said coach Aaron Murphy, who originally recruited Everett at Temple and now coaches her at Spirit. “Especially when she gets on the balance beam — that’s only four inches wide.
“She doesn’t carry the same depth perception as everybody else, so it’s like, ‘how does she stay up there?’ It’s absolutely incredible.”
Born with a dense congenital cataract that went undiagnosed until she was four years old, Everett underwent cataract surgery to remove her natural lens and had an intraocular implant put in place.
“A lot of the sport does require depth perception, which I have none of,” she said. “Jumping on a bar, walking on a beam — little things like that, I had to figure it out for myself.”
Now a fourth-year Level 10 gymnast, Everett has relied on her talent and determination, and an almost innate sense of muscle memory.
“I was in the shower, and I thought, ‘we’re throwing her off,’” Evans said. “In one area, she was doing a skill correctly, and then we would take her to another area, like hands-on, and that was throwing off her depth perception.
“So she’s had to learn everything herself, without spot, without help. And that’s really what has made her a good gymnast because she’s so consistent with everything she does and it’s all muscle memory.”
Everett is excited about what lies ahead for her at Temple. She is intent on competing all-around as a freshman, and career-wise, she wants to specialize in cancer research, along with coaching gymnastics on the side.
“I feel like I can’t just get rid of (gymnastics) after college,” she says with a smile. “I’ve been a part of the sport for so long, I don’t want to just forget about it.
“(Going to Temple) has been my dream for a really long time now,” said the senior, who carries a 4.6 GPA and has been on the Distinguished Honor Roll four straight years. “So it’s finally coming true. As of next fall, I’ll be there.
“I love the city. Just the environment there is what I’m really looking forward to, and I just love the school and the academics.”
Another Spirit member, Natalia Nottingham of Philadelphia, a senior at Masterman High, also signed her letter of intent on Wednesday night. The talented youngster had her choice of several Ivy League schools, and is headed to Cornell, for its reputed engineering program.
Both have competed in tournaments all over the area, along with traveling to bigger tourneys in Ohio and Florida, and now have their college path set.
It wasn’t long ago that Everett was having Spirit team parties at her house, designing banners and T-shirts.
“Just seeing her grow as an athlete, and mature and become better,” Murphy said, “it’s been fun to watch.”
“Some athletes peak at a certain point, and I think she’s definitely not peaked yet,” Evans said. “She has the quality to become captain her senior year.”
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