Sometimes, she’s afraid of the water.
Senior Jasmine Deng knows that she can’t afford to be scared. But from the end of the one meter diving board, replaying an inverted backflip and twist in her mind, it’s hard to keep the fears back.
So she clears her head. Jasmine focuses on not thinking at all. It’s a matter of letting her muscles take over and watching where the water is. When she’s in the air, Jasmine’s instincts twist her limber frame into the water without even a splash.
Jasmine’s body flips with the well-trained physique of a gymnast — tight core, flexibility, stamina, resistance to pain. That build was formed years ago. Those were her elementary days, when Jasmine spent 35 to 40 hours training as a gymnast every week.
Her hands were stained with chalk. Her arms were covered in bruises from missing her grip on the uneven bars. Childhood daydreams of the Olympics, unsure plans for the future, — they centered on gymnastics.
Gymnastics led Jasmine to diving. If it weren’t for losing her greatest passion, Jasmine’s life — hours of diving training each week, Division I prospects — would be completely different.
* * *
At first, gymnastics was a matter of practicality, not passion.
Jasmine was a three-year-old with weak ankles. She fell often. Her parents figured that several hours in the gym each week would help her coordination. In the process, Jasmine found her place in the world.
But this is not the story of Jasmine, the gymnast. It’s the story of Jasmine, the diver.
In sixth grade, Jasmine dismounted awkwardly from the beam, breaking every toe in her left foot.
The injury was a sign for her father, Cheng. Gymnastics was too expensive, too dangerous, too time-consuming. It was time for Jasmine to find another love, but that wasn’t an easy journey.
“[Jasmine] was calling me every night, crying because she missed it so much,” Jasmine’s older sister Elizabeth said. “It was this huge hole in her life. She tried to get over it, but it was like there was this window between her and the world. She could only watch.”
Diving also began as a matter of practicality. Cheng had been trying to find a new passion for Jasmine — dance classes, orchestra. But nothing Jasmine tried interested her even half as much as gymnastics.
The acrobatics of diving seemed similar to gymnastics, without the risk of unforgiving beams and hard floors. Cheng hoped the sport would help Jasmine to transition.
Jasmine was unsure. She was a weak swimmer, struggling at first to paddle to the side of the pool after a dive. The water hurt when she hit it wrong. Even worse, she was forced to land on her head in a dive, a concept foreign from the safety of landing on her feet in gymnastics.
But diving stuck. Jasmine was talented, stripping herself of her gymnastics instincts and beginning to experiment with more difficult dives. She passed other beginning divers, moving quickly up the levels in Downey’s program. She began to remind her parents and Elizabeth of when to leave their house, anxious to get to practice early.
As Jasmine entered high school, diving became her new focus. The physical challenge and emotional reward of landing a dive correctly was something Jasmine couldn’t find outside of athletics.
It wasn’t until junior year when Jasmine realized how important diving had become to her. She wanted to continue the sport — not just as a hobby, and not just in high school. Jasmine wanted to dive in college, and to do that, she had to become competitive.
Downey was beginning a new training program, and when Jasmine approached him about becoming competitive, he was ready to create an intense regimen for her. Jasmine now trains four days a week for three hours, spending half of each session conditioning and half focusing on technique.
Unlike other divers, Jasmine doesn’t focus on meets. At the few local meets she took part in, Jasmine scored an average of seven or eight. However, due to their lack of time, Downey and Jasmine think that meets will only take time away from improving her dives in time for college recruiting in April.
“Right now, we’re just pushing and rushing to try and get me to a place where I’m competitive enough to be looked at by colleges,” Jasmine said. “I’m doing well now, especially for where I started, but I have to push myself to a higher caliber.”
Downey believes that Jasmine’s late start will become an asset for the diver, not a hindrance. He sees in her a potential to become more than most who train at a young age, and her ability to overcome her own fears on the board makes him think that Jasmine could become a prominent diver.
“Sure, Jasmine didn’t start training early,” Downey said. “But she has more potential [than girls who did]. She works harder. She’s not afraid. I’m not going to put a limit to what she can continue to do, because I think she can go college, go Olympic, go to whatever level she decides she wants to go to.”