Diving into Success

Whitt balances on the diving board. Whitt dove at the Keller ISD pool on Feb 14 with the rest of her club diving team, Mustangs in the Sun.
Judges watch the divers. Each judge gave their score to the table behind them, who tallied up an average for each diver.
Whitt flips in the middle of her dive. Keeping her body straight was a test of physical ability since gravity is continuously pulling on it.

As the pain swept across her back, she knew there was no hope left for her athletic career.

Sophomore Jaylynn Whitt was diagnosed with scoliosis her freshman year of high school and was forced to quit gymnastics.

“It was my thing,” Jaylynn said. “I had always done gymnastics and stopping was like losing a part of my identity.”

Jaylynn had been involved in gymnastics since the age of 4. Her fellow gymnasts were like family.

“She was really outgoing and fun,” Jaylynn’s friend from gymnastics Lauren Burrell said. “We would have music playing in the gym and we’d always be dancing around on the floor and pretty much anywhere in between rounds of tumbling.”

After she was diagnosed, Jaylynn attempted to continue gymnastics while going through physical therapy. Surgery was not an option because the 36 degree curve in her back would not allow the surgery to occur safely.

“It was pretty hard going to physical therapy while I was in gym,” Jaylynn said. “I was always sore.”

Soon, Jaylynn was forced to drop gymnastics because the hard landings held risk of making her back worse.

“I felt like I was going to be depressed when I realized I couldn’t continue,” Jaylynn said. “I felt like I wasn’t going to do anything. Athletics was starting to be out of the question.”

Even though Jaylynn was discouraged, she found a source of inspiration in her family: specifically, her cousin Adonis. Adonis was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, but still continues to be independent. He drives himself, makes his own food and plays wheelchair basketball.

“Adonis is really special to me,” Jaylynn said. “He’s really someone who showed me that anything can be overcome.”

Jaylynn’s mother, Julie Whitt, and grandmother, Pam Whitt, also supported her. They told her to try out other sports – like cheerleading – to prevent Jaylynn from losing her athletic abilities.

“The techniques the girls use for their tumbling were very similar to the ones Jaylynn had been learning in gym,” Julie said. “I wanted her to keep those valuable skills she’d learned and be able to use them again.”

But according to Jaylynn, it just wasn’t for her.

“I’m a very shy person,” Jaylynn said. “I didn’t think I’d want to get up in front of so many people. I even told the coach I didn’t want to be on the team and they agreed to not put me on even though my tumbling skills were good because of gym.”

Next, Jaylynn tried diving at the recommendation of Burrell.

“Just like with cheer, a lot of the skills sets in diving are like gymnastics,” Jaylynn said. “You do similar flips but it’s much better for my back. Instead of falling onto the ground, I fall into water and it breaks the impact.”

It was there that Jaylynn found her niche. Since joining the diving team as a freshman, Jaylynn has competed up to the regional level and was recently elected to be an All-American Diver, an award given to only 100 people in the country who are both athletically and academically eligible.

“I’m really incredibly proud of Jaylynn,” Pam said. “I drive her to all her meets and stay for them. I put pressure on her because I know she has it in her to do anything she wants to. She’s really an independent thinker and knows who she is.”

Now that Jaylynn has found her sport, she sees diving in her future.

“I want to get diving scholarships and dive in college,” Jaylynn said. “I’m going to take diving as far as it can take me. I’m excited to see where it does.”