Jaida Lawrence has been training and competing in gymnastics for 15 years and now all that hard work has paid off. On Wednesday night, Lawrence signed a letter of intent to attend West Virginia University on a full gymnastics scholarship.
When Lawrence was two years old, she would drive her mother crazy because she would jump on countertops and do flips. She often climbed out of her crib and walked down the hall to her parents' bedroom.
"She needed to get me into a sport where two years old could start."
Lawrence enrolled in the toddler program at New England Gymnastics Express Too in Glastonbury, however she was quickly put on her own.
Lawrence signed her letter of intent on Wednesday with her best friend and teammate Kate Filosi of Killingworth. Filosi will be attending Michigan State University on a full gymnastics scholarship. However, her path to gymnastics was far different than Lawrence.
At six years old, Filosi needed a place to have her birthday party. She wanted to be just like her older sister, who was doing gymnastics at the New England Gymnastics Express Too. So, she decided to have the party there and the rest is history.
The young ladies would spend the next nine years together, forming a bond during their three-hour practices and competitions five to six days a week.
"This place has been our home. I think we spend more time together than we ever spent with our own families," Filosi said. "I think of you and me as sisters. We spend so much time together."
Kate's mother Denise Filosi said both young ladies tried to attend the same school, but it is difficult for one school to take two students from the same program, due to the limited number of scholarships. In the end, both young ladies wanted to go to colleges with top 30 programs, Denise Filosi said.
West Virginia University has wanted Lawrence since her sophomore year when she made nationals.
"I love the fact that they were so interested in me. That was a great thing. I wanted to go to a really big football school."
Lawrence has qualified for Junior Olympic National Championship fourth times and has finished in top 30 in the all around competition each time. In the vault, she finished fourth overall in 2009 and fifth in 2011.
Filosi has been to the Junior Olympic National Championship three times and has finished in top 30 in the all around competition each time.
Only seven people can make the national championship in each age group.
Filosi visited several campuses, talked to many colleges and had a lot of people come see her. However, Michigan State stuck out to her because it was big into sports and felt like home.
"I loved it as soon as I was on campus."
Maureen Chagnon, the coach at New England Gymnastics Express Too, said she is excited to watch the girls' college career progress. She said Lawrence is a very powerful gymnast and "will be missed." Filosi has been "a great asset" to the program, Chagnon added.
When the girls take a minute and think about what they have accomplished, it seems "pretty unreal," according to Filosi.
"The hard work paid off after 15 years," Lawrence said. "It is a reward."
"As you are going through it, you are like when is this going to end," Filosi said. "You are like when is this going to pay off. Every sport has their hard days. And the light is at the end of the tunnel."
Lawrence said gymnastics is harder than football and she and Filosi take pride in what they do.
"It's as hard as it sounds."