Niles West product and WNBA champion Jewell Loyd never let dyslexia define her

Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, a product of Niles West High School and a 2018 WNBA champion, tackles adversity head-on — the “Mamba Way.”

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Jewell Loyd, a Niles West product, is a WNBA champion and two-time All-Star with the Storm.

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Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, a product of Niles West High School and a 2018 WNBA champion, tackles adversity head-on — the “Mamba Way.” She has shown it numerous times throughout her career, including this past season, when she was named an All-Star while dealing with an ankle injury.

But head-on is also her approach in her life off the court. Basketball always came easy to her. What didn’t were reading, writing and math.

Sometimes as a child, she’d write her name and stare at the letters, wondering if she was right. She remembers a weekly assignment in second grade that required everyone to take a chapter book from the library, read it over the weekend and present it to the class. Loyd always picked the books with pictures, hoping they could guide her through the story.

“If they didn’t have pictures in the books, there was just no way I would be able to read it and finish it in three days. There was just no way,” Loyd said. “That was my struggle — still now, but that was the start of it where I was like, ‘This is probably something. I don’t know if it’s me or what.’ ”

Things that seemed to come so easily to her peers stumped her. She tried to mask her struggles. She didn’t want to be viewed as an outsider.

“I always found ways to just keep afloat and make it seem like everything was super good and great,” she said, “when [actually]. I would go home and it would take me five hours to finish, like, one paper of homework, which is outrageous.”

When she was 12, Loyd learned she had dyslexia.

“At the time, I had no idea what that meant,” she said. “You kind of think, like, ‘Oh, does this mean that I’m dumb or stupid?’ Like, ‘What does this mean? Do I have to go to a separate class?’ ”

The words “learning disability” made her feel uneasy. It took years for her to tell anyone outside her family — even close friends.

Meanwhile, she found learning strategies that helped her to succeed in the classroom. And in time, with her 504 Plan — ensuring there would be accommodations to help her at school — she rebuilt her confidence.

During this process, Loyd, a 2012 McDonald’s All-American, continued to turn heads on the court for Niles West. She was recruited by several big-name schools before being accepted to Notre Dame, where she made the honor roll one year and played three seasons, leading the Fighting Irish to two consecutive championship game appearances before she was drafted first overall in the 2015 WNBA Draft.

Over the years, she realized she’s not defined by dyslexia.

“It’s not a bad thing,” she said. “When you hear about people with disabilities, you immediately think that they’re incapable of doing stuff, and even I got to a point where I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ Like, ‘How can I go on and feel normal and feel like me?’ But this is what makes me me.”

Her drive is part of the reason why she and former NBA great Kobe Bryant have become good friends over the years. With Bryant’s help, Loyd launched Gold Mamba Army, a program that allows her to personally mentor fans and empower them to conquer their own hardships.

“Knowing that there are a lot of kids who look up to me for inspiration or advice, it’s pretty cool,” Loyd said. “But, yeah, I just want to go through life with the understanding that I just want to be better than I was the day before. And if I can look back at the end of the day and say, ‘OK, was I better than yesterday?’ and if I can say yes, then I’m working toward my new goal.”

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