Despite missing fingers, Orlando girl becomes AAU
By Stephen Ruiz - Contact Reporter
By Stephen Ruiz - Contact Reporter
Clad in her pajamas, Angela Michi got into her car.
As Michi drove to her husband's office in North Carolina, where they lived at the time, she could not get the image of the little Chinese girl out of her mind. That precious face personified the possible end of a meandering path that lasted several years and included too many roadblocks to count.
Her eyes filled with happy, hopeful tears, Angela excitedly found her husband, Michael, and showed him the picture emailed by an adoption agency.
"This is our daughter,'' she said.
Jasmine Michi — named by her brother, Mark, after the princess in the Disney movie "Aladdin'' and nicknamed Beans because of her love of coffee — has only 2 1/2 fingers on her left hand, the likely consequence of a birth defect, and a perpetual smile on her face.
The 10-year-old Orlando youth's happiness shines through most of all in gymnastics. She is a three-time AAU state champion — in the floor exercise this year and on the beam and all-around in 2014 — and placed seventh in her age group at AAU nationals last month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
"I just feel like a regular kid,'' said Jasmine, munching on cheese and crackers before a recent workout at Reflex Gymnastics in Orlando.
Rich Masters, the gym's co-owner and team director, is not surprised by Jasmine's accomplishments.
"The perfect athlete for this sport has strength, springiness, flexibility, coordination, balance, all that stuff,'' Masters said. "I have come to learn that the most important things are confidence, aggressiveness and determination. That will always surpass any kind of imperfection or talent.''
With only the pinky finger and thumb fully formed on her left hand, various gymnastics moves took longer for Jasmine to learn. She said performing giants — a maneuver in which a fully extended gymnast rotates around the bar 360 degrees — was challenging, and so were walkovers on the beam and certain aspects of tumbling.
"She used to do weird back handsprings,'' Angela said. "We called her the 'Sidewinder,' because she would jump sideways because it was easier for her to land on her right hand. We finally got that straightened out, and this year, she was floor champion at state. It was amazing.''
Jasmine, who got into gymnastics at the same time as her cousin, Lauren, is close to becoming a Level 5 gymnast. The sport has 10 levels, determined by USA Gymnastics, and the more advanced a gymnast, the higher her skill level.
"I get a little nervous because I worry about her not being able to hold on [to the bar],'' said Ellen Woodley, who coaches Jasmine on bars and vault. "I try to stay as close to the bar as possible when she is up there, but I try not to hover.
"We start out simple, and we go up a little harder and a little harder when she is ready.''
Jasmine uses two different gloves or grips, a normal one for her right hand and a smaller one for her left. Her coaches secure that grip with a rubber band.
The soon-to-be fifth-grader at Family Christian Academy in Orlando has sustained injuries in gymnastics, none of which resulted from her deformity. Jasmine has broken two toes and her nose, a result of being kicked inadvertently in the face at nationals one year.
"Sometimes I get scared, and Ellen will tell you I won't watch the bars all the time, because it does make me nervous, especially when she is doing handstands,'' Angela said. "I'm more comfortable now that she is doing handstands, but any kid can fall. We always try to look at it like that.''
Said her husband, Michael: "I'd sit there watching her when she was a little kid. She would grab pencils and crayons with that thumb and little finger, and she would just go to coloring, turn pages of the book. It is not like we said, 'Jasmine, try this.' She just kind of, bam, did it.''
Jasmine, who is 4 feet 1 and weighs nearly 59 pounds, enjoys driving the tractor at her grandfather's place near Palatka and arts and crafts, especially drawing. She is writing a book called "The Jewel Project,'' about a girl who finds hidden treasure after her house is destroyed by a tornado.
"The only thing we've found that she can't do is plug her nose,'' Angela said. "She has nosebleeds, so she has to plug her nose. Everything else, she just adapts.''
Shortly after joining the coaching staff at Reflex Gymnastics, Kelly Prescott first encountered Jasmine.
She just wasn't aware of it.
"I put Jasmine on the high bar,'' Prescott said. "Didn't even dawn on me. Her mom was over here, freaking out. [Jasmine] was like, 'Mr. Rich [Masters] never allows me up there.' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm not Mr. Rich.' By the end of the day, I was like, 'Oh, that's Jasmine.'''
Prescott coaches Jasmine on the beam and the floor exercise.
"It took me a long time, but to this day, I don't treat her any different,'' Prescott said. "If we need her to climb the rope, you go. Climb as far as you can, just like anyone else.''
Refuse to set the bar low.
"I have always had pretty high hopes for her,'' said her 20-year-old brother, Mark. "I never looked at her as any different. I am proud of everything she has done, but it hasn't surprised me.''
Said Woodley: "I don't have to tell her to get up there and do her stuff. She will work herself until she is exhausted. Whether she makes it or not, she keeps trying.''
After Angela's pregnancy with Mark was such high risk, the Michis were advised not to have any more children naturally. The alternative was adoption, and it took years for their journey — complete with a tsunami of emotions, tears and fears — to lead them to Jasmine.
Jasmine entered their lives when she was 13 months old.
"I always tell everybody she's my hero,'' Angela said. "One of her coaches gave her a soft beam to take home. She keeps me up until after midnight, practicing these skills. She wants to come here . . . She doesn't want to waste other kids' time.
"We all have a tendency sometimes to feel sorry for ourselves. She never feels sorry for herself. She never lets anything really get her down.''
The Michis were not looking for a special-needs child, just a special one.
Jasmine turned out to be a perfect 10.