Canadian gymnast Jackson Payne needs to catch a break.
After winning his first overall Canadian gymnastics title in 2011, he left the senior men’s national gymnastics team to serve a two-year mission in South Korea for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sacrificing many key opportunities to compete for opportunities to serve.
“It was difficult. I went into my mission not knowing if I would ever do [gymnastics] again. It was terrifying,” Payne said. “It was scary, but at the same time my religion is very important to me. I knew that if I put my trust into that decision it would work out.”
Unique from regular missions, Payne was given special permission to practice gymnastics at the Korean National Sports University eight months into his two-year service. He was able to rejoin the Canadian gymnastic team upon returning from his mission.
Right before competing in the Pan American Games in 2015, he tore his right Achilles tendon, making it impossible for him to compete.
However, with a boot to heal his foot and a determination to qualify for the Olympics, he fought his way through rehab for a year, starting training only ten days after his foot surgery. Rather than succumbing to his Achilles tendon injury and losing hope, Payne trained his way back to nationals in his hometown of Edmonton, Canada, and he’s not about to give up now.
“I had some doubts in my mind if I could come back,” Payne said, “but they weren’t big enough for me to stop.”
However, when the artistic gymnastics team for Canada failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Payne—along with other gymnasts from his artistic gymnastics team—had to compete in the national championships to vie for the one available gymnastics spot on Team Canada.
Payne excelled in Edmonton at the national championships. He won gold on the parallel bars and won his third overall national title, which positioned him as a main contender for the spot on the men’s gymnastics team, along with Rene Cournoyer of Quebec and Scott Morgan of Vancouver.
“It was a long road back. It took a year to get back to this point. There were some errors,” Payne said. But he sounded more hopeful for the future.
“I know I have room for improvement. I know there is more left in me.”
He exhibited good sportsmanship, as well as his competitive side, when he said, “I want the best person there in Rio competing for Canada. It’s the best way we can build our sport, and I want to be that guy.”
On June 30, Gymnastics Canada will determine who will fill the spot on the Canadian gymnastics team and go to Rio for the Olympics in August. Until then, Payne will undoubtedly be training, practicing, and hoping. He will also take a break from competing in gymnastics to get married in June.
Apart from hoping to get to Rio in August, Payne hopes to go to medical school in the future. He currently studies kinesiology at the University of Alberta and serves as a ward missionary in his local ward.
With Jackson Payne’s ability to turn every roadblock into something good, he sends a positive message to the world.
“If you can take something back from what happens, you can really grow.”
UPDATE: As of June 30, 2016, Scott Morgan of Vancouver beat out Jackson Payne as the only men’s artistic gymnast to go to the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Shown below, Payne (right) next to teammate Scott Morgan (middle), who made the Olympic team, and teammate Kevin Lytwyn (on the left). Payne will not compete for Team Canada in Rio this August.