Jackson Payne is a gymnast with the Canadian Gymnastics Team and a returned missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is his story.
I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. I started gymnastics when I was six or seven years old. I went to Primary and I grew up in what is now called the Bearspaw Ward in the Millwoods Stake in Edmonton.
I was baptized when I was eight years old, and I was getting more serious in gymnastics. I had lots of church friends that I hung out with at school and at church activities. There are a lot of memories of doing scouting with the deacons, teachers and priests.
During the summer, it was really hard to decide whether to go to scout camps or do gymnastics. Summer is a very important time for gymnastics. I made the decision to do gymnastics instead of some of the scout camps.
My mom and dad were a huge part of helping me decide. They helped me know what my priorities were and church was a huge priority.
Right off the bat we made it known that I could not train on Sunday. There are competitions on Sunday and it was a very difficult decision especially when I was younger knowing that we are not supposed to do things like that on Sunday. The more I prayed about it the better my relationship became with Heavenly Father.
When I graduated from high school I wanted to do a year of university at least part-time, but I was also very much into my gymnastics and knew that it would be a big part of my life. It was kind of hard for me to decide when to go on a mission. At that time I was preparing for the 2012 Olympics. There were so many opportunities and signs that looked like I would be going to the Olympics. When it ended up not being me going to the Olympics for Canada, I was able to go on my mission.
I was very devastated, but as I look back now, it was such a blessing. I can honestly say that, had I gone to the Olympics in 2012, I don’t know if I would have served a mission. I would have wanted to continue with my gymnastics and pursue that. Who knows where my heart would have been following the Olympics. I am grateful for the way it happened; I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I had to go through that to know that I had to serve a mission right at that time. My mission was a big part of my life and will be forever.
Learning the Korean language was a huge obstacle to get over. I wasn’t one of those missionaries that got the language right away.
The first month that I was in Korea I was called in to talk to the mission president. He had received a letter from Gymnastics Canada asking if there was any way that I could train enough to keep up my gymnastics strength and skills to be able to help Canada prepare for the 2016 Olympics. The mission president thought that I might be able to do some kind of training. We met with the Korean Olympics Federation along with two Canadian Federation people that came to Korea for me, including my coach, Liang Cheng, to help organize training facilities for me. The Korean Federation, who had known me from other international competitions, said that it was fine for me to train in their facility.
By the end of my mission, I was training 12 to 14 hours a week, which is almost half of what I do now. It was enough to keep me in shape so that when I came home from my mission I was able to start at a higher level. It was an amazing experience, I was able to meet and talk with so many people about “who this missionary is training in a Korean Training Centre.”
I had the opportunity to compete while on my mission. Just a few months before going home, I was invited to the Korea World Cup, an International Competition held in Incheon, Korea. I competed on the high bar, missionaries from the field got to come with their investigators, my investigators got to come, recent converts got to come to see me compete. It was a really great experience to me and for the missionaries in my mission.
To be continued in Part 2.