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A balancing act: Local gymnast battles dyslexia, deafness
Mill Creek's Trent Jarrett - photo by COREY WILSON

HOSCHTON — Trent Jarrett is not your average high schooler.

While other student-athletes his age are busy running routes on the football field or rounding the bases on a baseball diamond, the 15-year-old freshman at Mill Creek High is perfecting his gymnastics routine. His sun-up to sundown dedication earned him a trip to the National Junior Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Championships last week.

But that’s not the only thing special about Jarrett.

Jarrett, who lives in Flowery Branch, copes with the daily struggles of being dyslexic and 95 percent deaf in his right ear.

"Trent learned at a very young age that things don’t always come easy and that he must work hard to make things happen," said Scott Jarrett, Trent’s father. "The sport of gymnastics, along with the training and travel, has given Trent the opportunity to make friends all across the country."

With dreams of competing at the collegiate level, Jarrett knows what it takes to maintain high grades in addition to honing his elite athletic abilities.

"Being dyslexic just means that Trent has to study longer and harder, and he does a great job of balancing all of it," Scott Jarrett said.

Learning to cope at a young age

Growing up, Jarrett had a problem learning the difference among colors. But as first-time parents, the Jarretts had no idea that something more serious could be affecting their son’s learning abilities. During Jarrett’s first year as a grade school student, his parents slowly began to notice something was different about their 5-year-old son.

Following a tough year in kindergarten, Trent’s parents sent him to Readiness (a grade level between kindergarten and first grade). His teacher there suggested that Trent may have a slight learning disability. Following numerous tests, he was first diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that causes difficulty in processing language.

His parents later found out that Jarrett was partially deaf in his right ear. According to his parents, there is no known reason for his deafness. A series of tests were done at Emory University and doctors determined that high fevers during his infancy could have caused Trent to become hearing impaired.

"It has kind of played to his favor," Scott Jarrett said. "New coaches at camps and clinics remark at how he is so comfortable looking them in the eye when they explain things to him. Most kids are shy to make direct eye contact, but for Trent, there is a coping mechanism as he needs to look you in the eye to make sure he hears you and reads your facial expression and such."

Jarrett also regularly attends the Roswell Eye Clinic for visual therapy.

"Trent has far exceeded our first concerns about his learning and for most people, they have no idea that he processes things a little differently," said Karen Jarrett, Trent’s mother and a third-grade teacher at Harmony Elementary in Buford. "He sees and processes things a little different than the average person, but he has learned to adapt to our world."

"If you did not know he had a disability, you’d never be able to tell," said Patrick Bates, Jarrett’s World Geography teacher. "He never uses those disabilities as an excuse. He always does what he is supposed to and then goes above and beyond on most occasions. His efforts make up for any shortfall he may have, and that is what makes him a great student and athlete."

Falling in love with the sport

When Jarrett was 4, his parents took him to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He immediately knew that gymnastics was something that he wanted to pursue.

"At first, I did not understand what the Olympics were all about," Jarrett said, "but my parents asked me if I wanted to go see some competitions. I really did not understand what I was watching, but I knew it looked fun. I saw all these guys hanging from bars, flipping from rings and hanging all over the place.

"I was hooked and I knew I had to do it for myself."

Jarrett’s parents then enrolled him in a couple of recreational classes, and his distinct talents were soon discovered.

After a couple of years of taking a class one night a week, two Russian coaches invited Jarrett to try out for a competitive team. The Jarretts accepted the offer and he was competing all over the southeast by the age of 7.

Success quickly followed, and Jarrett became the state vault champion in his first year of competition.

"Trent’s first year of gymnastics was interesting," said Samuel Zaretsky, Jarrett’s first gymnastics teacher. "He was a little power house. His strength was above par and his body structure screamed gymnastics. I began using him as an example and a leader in the gym and he took the responsibility seriously.

"The one word that sums up Trent’s gymnastics past and soon-to-be future is passion. I have never coached anyone in the gym who would stay late to train on his own, never miss a day and ask for consistent feedback the way he did."

Balancing school, gymnastics and a social life

Jarrett fully understands the definition of dedication.

A typical day for Jarrett usually begins around 5:15 a.m. when he prepares his own breakfast. He then readies himself, boards the bus and begins his day at school.

Jarrett, who carries a 3.67 GPA, leaves school around 3 p.m., gets home, and allocates the proper amount of time to finish his daily schoolwork. Jarrett’s parents then rush home, pick him up and drive him to Sugarloaf, where a ride awaits to take him to the Atlanta School of Gymnastics in Tucker.

There, Jarrett practices from 5 to 9 p.m. Back at home nearly an hour later, Jarrett begins his homework, gets to bed, and begins the process again.

"The structure and discipline that I have learned in gymnastics has helped me to have good time management skills," Jarrett said.

"Even though I miss out on a lot of social time with my friends, gymnastics has changed my life in many positive ways. Through gymnastic camps and competitions, I have been given the chance to see many places like Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Columbus (Ohio) and many places all over the southeast," he said.

"I live a very structured life, but it is a life full of purpose, goals and many rewards."

Making a name for himself

On May 6, Jarrett and his teammates boarded a plane and flew to Battle Creek, Mich., to compete in the National Junior Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Championships. Jarrett, who represented the Southeast Region in the meet, was awarded a spot in the national event following a top-tier finish in the Southeastern Regional Men’s Gymnastics Meet in early April in Huntsville, Ala.

Although Jarrett, who is ranked as the No. 8 gymnast in the state in the 14- and 15-year-old division, was not awarded for any of his efforts during the national event, he left the meet with an Academic All-American award from the president of USA Gymnastics.

"I had already achieved my goal for this year and that was to just make it to Nationals," Jarrett said. "But next year, my goal will be drastically different and I expect myself to bring home some hardware."

Goals for the future

Jarrett’s goals extend beyond gymnastics.

An aspiring archaeologist, Jarrett hopes to attend a college in the Big 10 conference and continue to chase his dream of competing in the Olympics one day.

"Since there are only 13 men’s college gymnastic programs in the United States, I think I’d like to continue my education in the Big 10," Jarrett said. "Last year, I went to Ohio State and got the chance to talk with the coaches and stuff. Last week, Iowa talked to me, and I really liked those coaches, too.

"I just hope I get the chance to continue competing in gymnastics, and given the opportunity, I won’t let it pass me by."

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