I was very fortunate to take my first trip to Texas and to the NCAA DIII Swimming and Diving championships last week. This was a very special experience because it was a goal that had always eluded me. In order to make the meet, you have to be one of the top 24 divers in the country, so every moment there was special. The spirit was intoxicating.
(they had water fountains my size, I was very excited)
I think that the biggest thing I kept thinking was, “wow these are real people.” They have their vulnerabilities and insecurities too, not everyone was perfect, far from it. There were many poor performances. But what I also realized was the atmosphere of respect. Everyone there had traveled from different parts of the country. We had all been preparing for the past 6 months and for the majority of the athletes and coaches there, we have put in years behind the scenes for moments like these. No matter if an athlete completed a record-breaking feat or came in dead last, you could feel the deeply rooted admiration and respect from the other athletes and coaches because we all knew what it meant to even be at this meet.
No matter how popular you are or how much money you have, you can’t pay to be there. It takes thousands of hours of sweat, equity and work to be there. That feeling was palpable and being on the deck with the other athletes and coaches definitely made it an experience that I will always remember.
(The Team at the NCAA hosted Banquet, they had really good Chocolate Mousse...)
I know a little bit about swimming and I was fortunate enough to watch a young man from Emory swim one of the fastest 100 breaststroke times in the country. He placed 3rd at the last US Olympic trials. On our Union team, we had a young woman who came in seeded 21st who dropped more than 2 seconds and went under 2 minutes in the 200 back. Apparently, she joined a historic group of only 12 women who have ever gone under 2 minutes in the 200 back in Division III history. Going back to that incredible feeling, that is what I felt the whole time that I was somehow (even if by proxy) taking part in history and it was amazing.
(Christina holding her 4th place trophy)
Finally, the part you have been waiting for, the diving! The diving was phenomenal. People were throwing crazy stuff, as they always do at these meets. I think the most impressive things I saw were some of the 205s and 305s one meter, as well as the 5235s and 5335s [some parents will have no idea what the numbers mean, still. I know, unbelievable. But true].
Something that I do whenever I am in any situation is always trying to tap into people. When I say tap in I mean soak up whatever I can from them. I give credit to my dad, thanks Pops! This skill has served me well in life and especially in diving.
(Sam on the Podium!)
While I was at the meet I had the opportunity to tap into many new minds and it was exciting. I would say the most powerful diving observation that I made there while watching a senior from Denison. He had won a national title previously. He was obviously a very good diver but what impressed me the most was not how fast he flipped or how good his mechanics were or even how high he jumped. It was his demeanor.
Maybe I am exaggerating but every single time I saw him he looked like he had a purpose. He was a man on a mission. He was not thinking about anything else but getting up on that podium and taking the gold. The concentration he showed and the zen-like patience he had were incredible. It didn’t matter if he just put a dive down for 70 points or 20, he kept his foot on the gas.
I think that we all have different ways of dealing with stress and difficult situations, and who knows, maybe this wasn’t stressful for him because he just truly thought in his head the whole time that he was going to win. But I think that the way he faced adversity head on was inspiring and a quality that I would like to instill in all of my divers.
(Matt right finished 20th in the nation and Sam left with his trophy for his best finish at 6th in the nation, Jeremy in the middle smiling because he was having a blast)
I think that when it comes to this level of competition for those top divers, they all have the dives to be national champions. But it comes down who put in the work in the off-season and during the season. It comes down to who can take the pressure, who can bear the stress, who can be confident enough in themselves to get up on that board and string together their best possible list of dives when it really matters most on the biggest stage.
I think that we all need to be able to flip that switch when we need to and say I am going to get angry and step on this guy's throat and find a way to win.