Jasper everybody calls him "A.J." weighed little more than a pound when he was born, says Antoinette Smith, his grandmother who is raising him, along with eight other grandchildren. "I said if you live for me, you'll grow up strong," she recalls of holding Jasper in the hospital. Her son his father is in federal prison, and Jasper's mother is uninvolved in his life, Smith says.
Despite this and the family's dependence on public assistance, Jasper has excelled with his interests: swimming and the violin. He volunteers as a lifeguard at Powhatan Pool in his Fulton Hill neighborhood. He takes a GRTC bus daily to Swansboro Pool in South Side for swim practice with the Richmond Racers, the city's year-round swim team. And he recently took part in a weekend music workshop at the Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg.
"A.J. has dealt with adversities and pushed himself beyond them," Anthem spokesman Scott Golden says. "He exemplifies the spirit of the Olympics." The company produced four segments on four different athletes who have overcome odds to better their lives and the lives of others. They will air on NBC the network airing the summer games through August.
"I told him the Lord is trying to open the door for him," Smith says of the exposure. Jasper takes the attention in stride.
In the fall he hopes to attend St. Christopher's School and after that, the College of William & Mary. For now, he's late to swim practice and his coach, Mike Hodges, jokingly rebukes him. He tosses his T-shirt and ducks in the pool, barely making a splash. "I'm a real driven person," he says, "but I also have to try hard to get what I want." Brandon Walters
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