Ten-year-old Jarrett Payne of Sidney has so far had an amazing career in swimming. And it’s been against all odds.
The son of Jeff and Wendy Payne, Jarrett was diagnosed at a very young age with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
As explained in medical terms, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a group of inherited disorders that affect one’s connective tissue, primarily skin, joints and blood vessel walls. Connective tissue provides strength and elasticity to the underlying structures of the body.
People who have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome usually have overly-flexible joints and stretchy fragile skin. This can become a problem if one has a wound that requires stitches because the skin often isn’t strong enough to hold them.
Because of this, the young Payne was not allowed to compete in any contact sports. “He’s a competitor, and he would love to play football, basketball, soccer…,” said his mother.
But there are non-contact sports, and they discovered at around age five that Jarrett also loved to swim, and he was very good at it.
“He’s very, very flexible, and double-jointed,” said his mother. “They told us he would never jump, never run, never do anything. His ligaments are super, super stretchy. When he was two, they turned his feet completely around backwards, and he didn’t even flinch.”
The family was told that the only thing that could help was to build muscle mass, and that’s where swimming has paid off. Wendy said that when Jarrett was six, they realized he had a gift. It was in Celina in 2012, where the goal was to achieve a “AA” qualifying time and swim in the championships.
“Most kids might qualify in a couple of meets as 8-year-olds,” Wendy said. “And when Jarrett was six, he qualified in five, and won most of them.”
“It’s kinda become when he does,” she added.
Jarrett learned to swim at the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA, his mom said, and the Paynes are all members there. But the local YMCA does not offer a summer program, so Jarrett has taken his talents to the Springfield YMCA (SPY for short).
“We love the Sidney Y,” said Wendy. “You’ll see Jarrett’s name all over the records. He went to Springfield last summer, and when it was time to come back to Sidney for winter, he asked if he could continue with Springfield, so he’s been there a year now. It’s just another level.”
Jarrett has three siblings, including Addison, 11, Jaxxson, 8, and Justiss, 5. All of them are swimming this summer for Botkins, where Paul Miller is the summer head swim coach. Miller was a state champion while at Sidney High School.
“With Sidney not having a summer team, a ton of swimmers go to Botkins,” said Mrs. Payne. “We don’t really practice a lot. We just show up and swim. We swim against teams like Minster, Versailles and Bellefontaine.”
Jarrett turned 10 in April, and his first meet for Springfield was in May at the Jill Griesse Memorial Invitational at Dension University. He set three new SPY long-course (Olympic-size pool) records for 9-10 boys, in the 100 butterfly of 1:20.07, the 2oo individual medley of 2:51.75, and the 100 breaststroke of 1:37.28.
He also set a new meet record in the 200 freestyle.
Not long after, he competed in a meet at Miami University and set three more SPY records, including 1:08.85 in the 100 free, 2:30.26 in the 200 free and 33.37 in the 50 fly. He also set a new meet record in the 50 free and narrowly missed a meet record in the 100 free.
“Some of those records he’s broken at Springfield have been up there a really long time and were set by some quality swimmers,” said Mrs. Payne.
Then just this past weekend, he was in Erlanger, Kentucky for an event and really put on a show. He competed in eight events and won them all. And despite winning by what his mom called “a landslide,” he dropped his time in a couple of events. “When somebody is chasing him, we usually see his time drop,” she said. “But when he’s ahead like he was, that had to be self-motivated.”
It was the butterfly that first grabbed the attention of Jarrett’s parents.
“Our kids were raised in day care at the (Sidney) Y, and as part of that, they give the kids swimming lessons,” recalled Mrs. Payne. “They asked if he wanted to join the team, and we said sure because we figured it would be good exercise. But then he picked up the butterfly so easily, and that’s hard to do. That’s when we realized he had a gift.”
That gift they discovered four years ago came during an extraordinarily sad time for the Paynes. Wendy gave birth to another son, Josseph, but knew before he was born that he would not survive. He lived for 71 minutes.
“It was Oct. 2nd, 2012,” Mrs. Payne said. “We knew, because he was born without kidneys, so there was no chance that he would survive. We were told his chance for survival was zero and that we may not have any time at all with him. So we did a C-section at 33 weeks so we could spend as much time with him as possible. So we were thankful for swimming. We were sad, and this was our way of celebrating something, the reason we got out of the house.”
The Paynes have kept the memory of Josseph alive. Every year, the family does the “Josseph Tears of Joy,” a charity which makes sure 71 people, mostly children, have gifts for Christmas. It’s all done through donations and personal purchases.
Wendy is an English teacer at Celina High School, and Jeff is in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
“There is really no formal process to it,” Wendy said. “We had to get through our grief and we did it by being positive and helping others.”
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818