Jayci SimonPara BadmintonNews

Eye On The Prize: Team USA’s Jayci Simon Is An Optician By Day, And Now A Badminton Paralympian

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Jayci Simon competes during the women's singles WH1 finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 26, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

The everyday life of Jayci Simon falls into a routine. She goes to college, then heads to work as an optician. Afterwards, she tries to get some badminton training in.

There’s nothing average about Simon’s life these days, though.

Her friends, family and co-workers can hardly contain their excitement over her big news: She is headed to Paris this summer as part of Team USA, where she’ll make her Paralympic Games debut in Para-badminton. She’ll compete both in singles and in mixed doubles, with Miles Krajewski.

Simon, a native of St. John’s, Michigan, remembers the exact moment when she revealed the life-changing news at work.

“I had gotten a call in the car when I was heading to work to let me know that I was going to Paris, and I freaked out a little,” said Simon, 19, who competes in the SH6 class. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening. Yes!’ And then I got to work and had to decide if I was going to say something. Of course, I had to say something because they all knew about my competitions and stuff. I told them I made it, and my boss teared up.

“It was just really special feeling and seeing how happy this made everybody. Same for my family too; everybody was freaking out. It’s a cool thing right now.”

Simon, who has a rare form of dwarfism called acromicric dysplasia, has always been athletic, competing in a variety of sports like her two younger sisters, but getting others to see past her condition has been a challenge, she said. She tried different sports, being exposed to new opportunities at Little People of America conferences and World Dwarf Games.

Para-badminton caught her eye, and she knew it was a good fit for her speed and aggressiveness. She is now ranked sixth in the world in singles and said she knows she has a lot of room to improve.

She also made friends along the way, like Krajewski, with whom she won a bronze medal at this year’s world championships.

“It’s been so fun being friends with Miles for years, and seeing how good he has become,” Simon said. “It’s not hard for us to play together, because we’re on the same level in terms of what we want, and we are communicating well. We work well together, and that shows in matches.”

Jayci Simon poses with her gold medal for mixed doubles SH6 at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 26, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

Last fall, Simon and Krajewski took home mixed doubles gold from the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, a critical moment to help them qualify for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024. They knew, before the tournament started, that they needed to win to get enough points to make the Games. 

They won, despite some complications along the way such as a team dropping out and the format changing to round robin, leading to fewer qualification points. There were a few anxious weeks before the official good news came about her qualification for Team USA.

“I really wanted this, and I know for sure that Miles really did, because he was so close to making Paralympic team for Tokyo and didn’t make it,” said Simon, who also won a silver medal in singles in Lima. “I am now just looking ahead to training and Paris. I want to really go for it.”

Simon does not have a regular coach or facility to train at near her home outside of Lansing, Michigan. She has put together a stop-gap system, with her parents feeding her shuttlecocks to drill at their local church. She also does her own conditioning work and attends regular Sunday practices with the nearby Michigan State University student badminton club. She competes for hours against the stronger, able-bodied players, who she said give her a run for her money.

Simon intends to spend the summer in intensive, full-time training, likely in Texas, and also plans to meet up with Krajewski to up their game. She is hopeful that her dedication will lead to strong results in Paris.

Her cheering section will include her parents, sisters, grandparents and a family friend, who have already booked their plane tickets for Paris. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime, marked by her first trip to Paris.

“It’s amazing, because these are things I have dreamed about,” Simon said. “I’m going to be on Team USA, like walking in the Opening Ceremony and, hopefully, seeing our flag get raised and hear our national anthem. When we saw all of that in Santiago; it gave me chills, so I want to do it again. I’m just excited about everything and can’t wait to experience it.”