California city honors Latter-day Saint Special Olympics athlete with day named after him

Jayson Jesperson, a Latter-day Saint from Chula Vista, California, represented the United States in golf at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games

The city of Chula Vista, California, proclaimed July 11 as Jayson Jesperson Day in honor of an athlete who represented the United States in golf at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany. 

Jayson Jesperson — a 28-year-old member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in Chula Vista with his parents, Jay and Serena Jesperson — received a formal proclamation from Mayor John McCann and gave a brief acceptance speech in front of the city council. 

The proclamation noted the 30-plus medals Jayson Jesperson has garnered from Special Olympics competitions the last 15 years, including gold medals in both the Southern California and California state Special Olympics golf competitions. It also noted his fourth-place ribbon at the Special Olympics World Games.

Jayson Jesperson poses for a photo with a proclamation from Mayor John McCann of Chula Vista, California, proclaiming July 11, 2023, as Jayson Jesperson Day. Jayson competed in the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany, June 17-25, 2023. | Provided by Jay Jesperson

“I talked to the mayor, [told him I was] happy to be there. After I was done, I gave him a USA pin and shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you,’” Jayson Jesperson said during an interview with the Church News.

It was a personal, meaningful interaction that is indicative of Jayson’s character — and something he repeatedly did while competing in Berlin, said his father, Jay Jesperson, who accompanied his son as his golf caddie.

“Jayson would always gather his competitors around, we’d take pictures, and then he’d make sure and give each one a USA pin, and wish them good luck. Everybody we competed with was so nice, from Canada to Finland to Denmark to Australia — just great athletes,” he said.

Jayson Jesperson was one of about 7,000 athletes who competed June 17-25 at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games — the world’s largest inclusive sporting event. The mission of Special Olympics is to provide sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

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Jayson’s journey to the World Games

As Jay Jesperson looks back on Jayson’s journey to the Special Olympics World Games, “I marvel at the power of a simple prayer,” he said.

When he and his wife, Serena, decided to move their family back to California six years ago after living in Utah, they prayed that Jayson could find friends. “We moved him away from all his friends in Utah, which was a huge support group of special-needs kids,” he explained. 

Jayson Jesperson has been playing golf since he was 10 years old. After returning to California, the family learned about a golf program in the San Diego area for Special Olympics athletes. Jayson was accepted on the team. “That just opened up all these doors,” Jay Jesperson said. 

Not long after, Jay and Jayson Jesperson were assigned to home teach an elderly widow in the ward who learned about Jayson playing golf. She connected him with her friend Neil Finch, a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America who moved to Chula Vista to work at Enagic Golf Club at Eastlake. Finch golfed for Brigham Young University 1980-1982, and his team won the 1981 NCAA championship.

“He met Jayson and hired him to work at the golf course and changed our worlds completely,” Jay Jesperson said. Jayson was able to practice at the course and train with other PGA members.

“Never ever in a million years could we expect all these tender mercy doors to open, leading to literally hundreds of new friends and, more importantly, so many people who might have never met a member of the Church that are so impressed with Jayson. It’s been such an overwhelming blessing we didn’t expect,” Jay Jesperson said.

Jay Jesperson, left, accompanied his son Jayson to Berlin, Germany, for the 2023 Special Olympics World Games as his golf caddie. | Provided by Jay Jesperson

Support from family and friends

Each day of competition in Berlin, Jayson Jesperson marked his golf ball with one of family member’s initials. He saved “Mom” for the last day. “His best round was with his mom on there,” Jay Jesperson said. 

Jayson Jesperson credits his mom for his golf success. “I’m thankful my mom gave me all those years of golf lessons. I appreciate her in my life, and she’s my rock. I don’t know how I’d do without her,” he said.

Serena Jesperson shared her experience being in Berlin: “When the opening ceremonies happened in Germany, there wasn’t a dry eye. There were 13 of us [from the family], and we were just pinching ourselves that this young man had made it this far.”

She said she often prays that her son can be safe and be around good people. “That has happened a hundred-fold. Everybody we have in our lives around Jayson are wonderful people to help him grow and become a better person and have his independence.”

Jayson Jesperson and his mother, Serena Jesperson, pose for a photo in front of the Berlin Cathedral while in Germany for the Special Olympics World Games June 17-25, 2023. | Provided by Jay Jesperson

When he’s not golfing, Jayson Jesperson enjoys painting and drawing. He’s an avid BYU sports fan. And he serves as a priests quorum specialist in his ward. 

Bishop Travis Bateman of the Chula Vista 3rd Ward, San Diego California South Stake, described some ways Jayson has been an example to ward members: “He is an example to the youth as well as adults by showing up every Sunday, as well on Tuesdays for youth activities, having a smile on his face, a positive attitude and loving people. 

“Just like everyone else, he is not perfect and enjoys his comfort zones, but he is willing to take on new challenges and grow his testimony of Jesus Christ. He is an example about never giving up. He is an example about how to love one’s parents.”

Nearly 80 people from the ward gathered at a friend’s house for a send-off party for Jayson Jesperson before he left for Berlin. “Our ward family here has been huge,” Jay Jesperson said. “They’re very loving and accepting. … The support has been just phenomenal.”

Next up for Jayson Jesperson is the Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge July 31-Aug. 1. The two-day tournament brings together youth, veterans and people with intellectual disabilities through the game of golf.

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