Mill Creek graduate, Trent Jarrett a gymnast at the University of Illinois at Chicago is deaf in one ear and dyslexic. Jarrett started gymnastics to help wit his balance and was an individual qualifier for the NCAA Championships in his freshman season. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
ATLANTA — Just to find Trent Jarrett is a challenge.
Home from his first year of college, the University of Illinois at Chicago gymnast splits, or rather divides, his time between different gyms, coaching and training. He’s at his Atlanta School of Gymnastics working out on this day, a small gym nowhere near a major road in Tucker, miles from his home in Buford, and nothing impressive to see from the parking lot.
But this is the world of gymnastics, tough to find and, for those like Jarrett, impossible to escape. Nor is he interested in leaving, setting his sights bigger and bigger.
“When I was a child, I always liked doing other stuff,” Jarrett said, stressing the other. “Other sports didn’t give me a thrill. There was just something inside me that this was different, this is exciting. The more I watched, the more I wanted to be in this world.”
Jarrett’s early arrival in this world wasn’t for recreation or competition, his parents brought him to the door of his first gym as therapy.
Born with what he calls “a high degree of dyslexia” combined with no hearing in his right ear, Jarrett’s parents wanted an activity to help their son overcome these added obstacles.
“The doctor said gymnastics might be a good thing,” Jarrett said. “I just did the mommy, daddy stuff until two Russian coaches came and talked to me and wanted to see if I wanted to be on their team.”
The coaches kept Jarrett’s interest through the lower realms of the gymnastics world, but he didn’t take off as a competitor until he met his trainer and current coach Nathan Simmons.
“He needed to un-learn a lot of stuff,” Simmons said of his early encounters with Jarrett.
From the first flip, Simmons noticed Jarrett’s hearing troubles and helped tailor his workouts to overcome the inherent balance issues. He also needed to break down each element in his training to penetrate Jarrett’s understanding.
“My mind gets jumbled up. I am a little bit slow,” Jarrett said. “I am not a fast learner. I have to take a little more time and break it down into steps. There are some gymnasts who are a great talents, they don’t have to be real technical. It makes me be in a different mindset than other people.”
Understanding the payoff of meticulous focus, Jarrett turned his attention to competing in college when he was a junior at Mill Creek High School. He took the process in steps, and typical for Jarrett, added steps found their way onto his path. He attended camps and met coaches. He qualified for his fourth Junior Olympics and seemed on his way to the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill., to compete in the Big 10.
First came shoulder problems, and Jarrett gritted his way through his final junior season.
“Then the Illinois coach realized he couldn’t have as many freshmen as he thought he could and he would have to make cuts,” Jarrett said. “He told me if I came I would be one of the ones considered. That made me nervous. But I understood.”
So he kept looking and found Iowa. Simmons helped with contacts and Jarrett credits his parents with needed support. Iowa made cuts as well, the coach just waited until after Jarrett moved and enrolled.
“My body was just getting worse, everything kept going down, and he told me I have to cut you,” Jarrett said. “I called my parents. I called Nathan. I told myself I was done.”
During his early searches for a team, UIC made the short list — Jarrett even applied — but the lure of the Big Ten kept the Flames down the list. While he was enrolled at Iowa, making friends and meeting girls and no longer training, the UIC coach resurfaced with a new possibility. He had a spot on the team if Jarrett would transfer. To complete the move, Jarrett needed to leave Iowa and return home, train and attend enough classes to earn acceptance but few enough to not force him to sit out a season.
“I knew this was my last chance, my third chance,” Jarrett said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
His shoulder improved. The transfer was accepted. He made the team, helped them to a third-place finish at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships and qualified in the rings for the NCAA Championships in Pennsylvania. He loves Chicago and is studying archaeology.
He didn’t make it out of the first day at the NCAA Championships, but he aims to next time around. He’d like a shot at qualifying for the Visa Championships, a step toward national recognition. More challenges, but by now Jarrett relishes those.
“The dyslexia and the hearing loss gave me an extra challenge, too. Same with gymnastics,” Jarrett said. “I like that. It made me push more. It never gave me a break. Some people relax. It made me work harder, which I love.”