In April of 2018, Jasmin Guinn was in the depths of depression. It had been a year since she ended her collegiate basketball career at Academy of Art University, tearing three ligaments in her foot in her final game. She wasn’t working out. She was barely sleeping. She would go to class to finish her degree and then work during the day, and stayed up until 5 a.m. to take care of her grandmother, who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers.
“I pretty much felt like all the light had gone out of the world,” Guinn said.
Guinn had just gotten back on social media. After reading an article on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s years-long struggle with depression, she followed him on Instagram.
The first post the all-time leading scorer in Urban Knights history and former two-sport star saw Johnson make was that he needed strong women for a new athletic competition show he was producing: The Titan Games. Needing something to pull her out of her personal darkness, she applied. She’ll be in the third episode of the first season this Thursday at 7 p.m. on NBC.
“It’s pretty much games that The Rock would come up with,” Guinn said. “Imagine The Rock, combined with American Ninja Warrior, combined with American Gladiators — it’s that on steroids.”
The program is a single-elimination, March Madness bracket-style competition that blends elements of fitness competitions, set in an arena that features pyrotechnics and explosions evocative of a Michael Bay movie. It’s the first athletic endeavor Guinn’s participated in since her final game for ART U in March of 2016.
“I really had to work from the ground up to be able to get on the show,” said Guinn, who used her animation and visual effects degree to get a job at Argonaut Inc., an ad agency in San Francisco.
In her four-year ART U career, Guinn, a 2016-17 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee, was a three-time All-PacWest First Team honoree (twice in basketball, once in track & field for long jump), a conference long-jump champion, a two-time PacWest Defender of the Year on the basketball court, and helped the Urban Knights women’s basketball team to win its first two PacWest Conference Basketball Tournament titles in 2012-13 and 2013-14. She set program career records in points, rebounds, and steals.
Then, in her final collegiate basketball game, a 93-70 loss in the Division II NCAA West Regionals to No. 5 California Baptist, Guinn came down with a rebound on the right block, and as she dribbled right, an opposing player stepped on her left foot. Originally diagnosed with an ankle sprain, Guinn would later find out she’d torn three ligaments in her foot. The sharp pain in her left leg persisted for six months after the initial injury, and she couldn’t work out for a year.
“I had no function in my left ankle. It was kind of like a chronic ankle sprain,” Guinn said. “I couldn’t jump off of my left leg. I couldn’t run without a limp. That was my biggest thing. I was a jumper in track, and I was fast. Those were my biggest assets when I was competing.”
Guinn, an Oakland native and Berkeley High School alumna, spent the year after she was injured taking care of her maternal grandmother, Grace Driver, who was diagnosed two months after Guinn hurt her left foot and ankle. She would stay with her three to four nights a week, splitting the week with her mother.
“It was hard to see someone who inspired me so much go through losing control of her mind,” Guinn said. “She really couldn’t remember where she was. I’d stay in her apartment, and she couldn’t remember who I was most of the time. She thought I was some girl who lived across the street, or one of her friends’ daughters. She thought I was 12.”
Guinn made sure her grandmother bathed, made her food and made sure she didn’t wander around Oakland at 3 a.m. She would stay up until sunrise to make sure her grandmother stayed inside. She’d go to work at a public relations agency 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then, because she also worked in the Academy of Art athletics department, would staff games in the evening, or go to classes from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m.
“You make time for the ones that you love, and that was something I had to do,” Guinn said. “I would do anything for my family.”
Between the injury, sleep deprivation and seeing her grandmother deteriorate, Guinn found it hard to do anything much more than just survive.
“I pretty much kept it to myself, thinking I could pull myself out of it,” Guinn said. “People told me to see a therapist or something, but I was like, ‘I can do this myself,’ and I didn’t want to believe, I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was that low.”
Then, in February of 2018, Guinn’s brother gave his sister some tough love. He came into her room in the middle of the day, as she was sitting alone, and told her to get back out into the world.
“Until he said, ‘Get off your butt and go work out,’ I was like, ‘Screw it. I’m not going to do anything. I don’t want to work out. I don’t want to go to the gym,'” Guinn said. “I literally threw away all of my basketball shoes. I was like, ‘I do not want to set foot on a court again.’”
Guinn’s father Brian played played professional baseball. Her brother, Brian Jr., was drafted out of Cal by the San Diego Padres, but injuries — a torn quad and then a ruptured Achilles — ended his career in 2017, and he became a personal trainer. Like her brother, Guinn faced a crossroads: So long defined by athletics, her body was no longer familiar to her. He helped to train her, and he didn’t hold back.
“That was when I started training pretty heavily,” Guinn said. “I was in the gym every day for three hours. I would go after the gym to a track and just start running. Eventually, the pain subsided.”
The exercise not only helped stabilize her left leg — she’s frustrated that she’s still not as quick on her feet as she was playing basketball — but also helped with Guinn’s mental health, too.
Before finding out that The Rock — the former pro wrestling legend and Hollywood action hero — had suffered with depression for years, it was difficult for her to dig out of the hole she found herself in. Reading about Johnson’s struggle inspired her.
The ramped-up exercise helped Guinn lift herself up — endorphins are a wonderful thing — but when she heard about the Titan Games — that Johnson needed women — and when she impressed at the event’s 200-person combine, it was the final kick she needed.
“It was the little things that helped me see light, and helped me see hope,” Guinn said. “That was something that the Titan Games have given me. Just being able to compete again, that made me feel like me again.”