People tell me my story is unique. I wasn’t a good swimmer in high school, but still walked on to my college team, never being recruited. While I had a solid career in swimming, there is a critical piece to my story that often gets overlooked: before swimming, I was a diver in high school.
Actually, let’s use the term ‘diver’ loosely, because that would imply I was capable of diving, or at least halfway decent. I was neither of those two things. But hey, I wasn’t good enough to be on the swim team.
At least, that’s what the coach implied when he said they already had enough swimmers, but needed divers. In hindsight, I don’t think he meant anything negative by it; he was simply trying to fill his diving roster. I accepted the challenge. I mean, I enjoyed doing flips and stuff. I played on the diving boards all summer when I was a lifeguard, so how hard could it be?
As it turns out, I was about as good at diving as I was at staying focused in english class: me were unable to. Not to make excuses for my inferiority, but I was very tall and very skinny; flexibility was not my forte. Beyond athleticism and flexibility, diving is also an intense mental game. Until diving, my biggest mental stress was my K/D ratio in Counter-Strike.
Seriously, just ask a diver if they have ever smacked the water, or hit the board. Spoiler alert: yes they have. Those incidents make you think twice before you dive. I, for one, still have permanent scars on my hand from attempting to do a reverse dive. A reverse dive (aka a ‘gainer’) is when you leave the board moving forward, then attempt to do a back dive while you’re in the air. When done properly, it looks graceful. When I did it, it looked more like this.
Even after that blitzkrieg to my ego, I am not afraid of diving backwards. I am petrified of diving backwards. All I can think about is the stinging pain of another back flop. And when I say flop, I really mean smack. The point is, I was not cut out to be a diver.
To be recruited to college, D1 programs look for divers with a personal best diving score over 300 (260 at a minimum), with potential to grow. Great divers score well over 330. After my solid diving season, my personal best on the 1-meter springboard was an astounding 149.90.
For those of you who don’t understand diving scores, my score means the judges were awarding me an average of 4’s and 5’s (out of 10). Yet somehow I qualified for the Concorde District qualifier meet. I may have been the worst diver to ever qualify for Districts…a distinction that, for the District’s sake, I hope still stands today.
Districts was held at a county pool with very poor lighting. It was dark, hot, humid and miserable. Let’s put it this way…if it weren’t for the school excusing me from class that day, you couldn’t pay me to sit in this place for an hour. And it’s not like it was exciting either…there were maybe 30 parents there, plus us divers. It was a small, intimate crowd. You couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for me to perform below par.
I was about to put on a clinic about how not to dive.
At a diving meet, athletes get a few warm-up dives before the competition begins. As this was the last meet of the season, I could not have cared less. Knowing I was in over my head, rather than warm up, I threw caution to the wind and went for humor. I showed off my diving prowess by preparing like Mr. Bean. At one point I think I ran off the springboard and kept my feet running as I crashed into the water. Admittedly, I probably could have taken things more seriously. Coach was not impressed.
Dive after dive, I steadily pulled away from the competition–in the wrong direction. It’s unfortunate they don’t score diving like golf, because if the fewest points won, I would have had that title locked up early.
My hardest dive of the day was supposed to be a reverse 1.5, which my coach put on my diving sheet. Let me repeat that: my coach put it on my sheet…not me. I had never even attempted such a dive, let alone completed one. This would be like the football coach telling their punter to be a punt returner…with no practice. What could go wrong?
Evidently the entire dive can go wrong, leading to a DQ for the meet.
The smack that ended my diving career was both loud and painful, yet sublime. My dive landed something like this. The pity clap I earned made it all worth it, and I think I made my point that I didn’t belong there in the first place. The fact that I attempted the dive actually got me more high-fives than if I had completed it. Funny how that works.
All told, my short-lived-yet-stellar diving career lasted eight total meets, and a made a lot of other people feel good about themselves. I like to think the redeeming thoughts of “well hey, at least I’m not as bad as that guy” warmed the hearts of everyone I encountered during that season. I imagine some of them went on to dive in college, and I hope they did well.
From then on, it was swimming only for me, with the occasional cannonball.