When Jayci Simon was diagnosed with dwarfism at age seven, she did not take it well. For an active child, sports provided her an escape route.
That sport turned out to be badminton, which the American got introduced to in 2015, three years after her diagnosis, at a Little People of America event.
“It’s (the shuttlecock) the fastest moving object in any sport, which is really cool,” explained Simon to FOX 47 News when asked what caught her attention.
Simon started playing in her backyard and just three years later, competed and won women’s doubles silver at her first international tournament – the Pan Am Para Badminton Championships 2018.
Since then, the now 18-year-old has added multiple SH6 medals, climbing up as high as No.8 on the world rankings in women’s doubles with Egyptian partner Yasmina Eissa. An extraordinary feat, considering she has no permanent coach or a fixed training centre. Simon is also 15th in women’s singles and 11th in mixed doubles with Miles Krajewski.
“It’s been crazy. I never dreamed of being in this place but it’s been fun,” she admits. “It’s so much fun just to be able to challenge myself.
“I’ve made do with what I have. If I come across any resources, I try and take advantage.”
The years before her diagnosis were difficult, according to Simon’s mother Amy. Simon was not growing as she got older and for a long time, the doctors were not sure why.
“Everything she was testing for had a shortened life expectancy or a lot of medical complications. So when we got the dwarfism diagnosis, it was a huge relief. It was like ‘she’s just going to have short stature, we can deal with that’,” Amy said.
“She became accepting of badminton seeing that she could compete on a level playing field with other short stature players.”
Amy has been a great support, accompanying Simon to all her tournaments.
“(At first), I thought it would be more of a medical journey and a new community. I never imagined travelling the world with her and following her around to all these different countries and seeing her pour her heart into badminton,” added Amy.
Since her sporting journey started eight years ago, Simon has had one date circled.
“Ever since I knew the Paralympics were a thing for badminton, I’ve had my eyes set on Paris 2024,” Simon said. “Anything is possible, a medal would be the reward for all my hard work.”
Simon is on the right track, having already won an event after the qualifying window opened on 1 January – women’s doubles with Eissa at Brazil Para Badminton International 2023 last month.
Simon is expected to resume her dream-chasing at next week’s Thailand Para Badminton International in Pattaya.