After gymnastics career, Lakota West grad finds ‘purpose’ in music

Jasmine Ifeakanwa used to find her identity in gymnastics. Once that ended, the recent Lakota West High School graduate felt lost.

Searching for a purpose, she eventually found it through band and realized that working hard for a passion was more rewarding than just being good at something. Now, playing the French horn is a big part of who she is, and gymnastics no longer leaves a hole.

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Ifeakanwa, who made high honor roll all four years of high school, will carry her Lakota band experience with her to Ohio Northern University, where she plans to continue her musical career while studying pharmacy. She loves chemistry and hopes to help find cheaper ways to cut down on medicine costs, such as insulin.

“I don’t even think about gymnastics anymore,” Ifeakanwa said. “I’m passionate about band, and I care that I’m in it. Every time I showed up to practice, I was surprised how much I wanted to be there. I was not there to impress anyone or to be the best. I just wanted to be there. That’s something I never felt before that time. Gymnastics just came to me. With band, I was horrible at first, and I had to practice. I gave it my all.”

Ifeakanwa started gymnastics at age 3 when her parents were looking for a way to let her burn off some energy. Having ADHD, she was especially active. After one class, she tuckered out on the ride home and that sold her parents on the sport.

After six or seven years at that gym, Ifeakanwa joined Queen City Gymnastics at Kids First in Mason and flourished. At age 10, she went to train with the top team, where she was the youngest among a group of 16-, 17, and 18-year-olds. She practiced 40 hours a week and traveled all over the country competing, earning “Grand Champion” at three national championship events.

One day while practicing a double tuck on the trampoline, she landed on her neck and nearly fractured her vertebrae. Ifeakanwa returned to the gym a month or two later but couldn’t shake the fear of injury and began wondering if it was worth the risk anymore. She already had knee, ankle, wrist and back problems, and at age 12, she finally she decided to quit.

“Even though it was such a big part of my life, I decided it wasn’t worth it in the future to not be able to walk right or have chronic back pain,” she said. “It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. Up until the summer before ninth grade that was what I was. Everyone knew me as the girl who does flips and goes and wins medals. I didn’t know what to do after that. I got really depressed because ‘who am I, if not a gymnast?’”

Ifeakanwa decided to try diving. It was similar to gymnastics but the water doesn’t put the same strain on the body as a trampoline or mat. She liked it at first, but it just didn’t bring her the same satisfaction and eventually it felt like a waste of time.

Despite now realizing she should have been grateful for her decent grades and good family, Ifeakanwa still felt something was missing. She stopped diving sophomore year, and that’s right around the time she began finding her place in band.

“I felt I had to be good at something just to be myself,” she said.

Ifeakanwa had started playing trumpet in sixth grade, giving up recess to join the band. In the middle of ninth grade, after playing trumpet in marching band, she switched to French horn and now she views that as one of the best decisions of her life. Shortly after that, she made the top band for sophomore year.

“That really caused me to feel like I had a purpose because it was different, it was hard,” she said. “I would go to main campus and work with the older kids. I wanted to feel good again. I wanted to feel like I was contributing.”

The next year for marching band, Ifeakanwa switched to mellophone and met her closest friends, a group that felt like family. She continued playing French horn in Symphonic winds, and ended up getting first chair her third year.

Ifeakanwa was in honor band three years and also earned the top mark in “solo and ensemble” four years in a row. She hopes to minor in French horn performance at Ohio Northern and continue playing for life.

“I have 100s of medals in my basement from gymnastics, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that experience – I learned discipline, how to work with people and take criticism,” she said. “But I have one marching band trophy for being a senior, and it’s in my room and I look at it every morning. Band helped me feel like I belong. I wouldn’t change anything about that.”

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