Divers mix daring and determination


Divers are the daredevils of the pool, launching their bodies into the air and seeking to spin like tops while maintaining immaculate form before they hit the water.

Sometimes the degree of difficulty applied to the combination of height and manner of their brief flights can be a nerve-wracking challenge to the psyche.

“Some dives are so hard it’s scary almost,” said Seymour freshman Liv Hendrix of propelling herself off the board in the 1-meter dive.

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Hendrix had one of those the other day in her six-dive repertoire against Jennings County at the Seymour pool as the Owls defeated the visitors 127-56. The Seymour boys beat the Panthers, 119-46.

Hendrix began her approach to the end of the board and awkwardly abruptly cut it short instead of taking off, as if she ran out of runway.

Hendrix is one of four Seymour divers on the girls swimming and diving team this season. There is only one boy.

This group has a completely different relationship with the water than the swimmers who compete in the 50-yard freestyle or the 100-yard backstroke.

Just about everyone on the planet understands swimming, whether they can do it or not. Probably the only time the average person who isn’t a professional cliff diver in Mexico, ponders diving is once every four years when the sport appears on the TV screen during the Summer Olympics.

“It’s very untalked-about,” said Seymour sophomore diver Grace Lewis.

Diving is absent from ESPN Sportscenter highlights. Divers don’t get traded, showing up in the The Associated Press transactions list.

“It’s a unique sport,” Hendrix said. “Nobody does it.”

Degree of Difficulty

Not exactly nobody, but some swim teams do not have any competitors. Last Saturday turned into an intramural meet for the Seymour divers. Jennings didn’t have anyone in the discipline.

It was not the first time this season the Owls had to go against themselves, Seymour coach Dave Boggs has no explanation for why teams are having trouble rounding up divers.

“Don’t know,” he said. “It’s a good question.”

Nobody said being a diver is easy. That makes the phrase “degree of difficulty” applied to the dives each individual performs appropriate. As Hendrix, Lewis, Alexandra Weaver, Kate Connell and Kaleb Brown took turns, their dives were introduced with description, code of a category and a number quantifying that degree of difficulty.

There is a major difference between a 1.3 (easier) and a 1.9. Although meant to be informative (though there were no spectators in the house due to the COVID-19 pandemic) the announcer’s summation of a dive “reverse somersault in a tuck position” still probably required Babbel language classes to understand.

To the uninitiated the number might as well been labeled “No way.”

Fans — and even teammate swimmers — don’t really comprehend what it all means. When they see a dive done well and smoothly, with the body slicing into the water as smoothly as a knife through butter, they appreciate the artistry, and yes, the difficulty.

Seeing the contortionist-type moves as she springs skyward and the way she lands without splattering her body against the surprisingly hard surface of the water, sophomore Kate Connell said friends, and some of those swim team partners, can be somewhat intimidated.

“They say, ‘Wow, I could never do that,’” Connell said.

Connell did things well enough to win, Saturday, with her 124.43 points, about seven ahead of Hendrix and eight ahead of Lewis. Weaver’s 129.19 was high score, but she was an exhibition entry while recovering from injury.

“I definitely feel like I’m doing well,” said Lewis, who is a rookie in this sport.

How To Become A Diver

Given the limited number of divers, especially compared to the few dozen competitors on the boys and girls swim teams, and the low count of divers on opposing teams, diving seems not to be for everyone.

There are few cradle to grave divers, and how little daily, national, exposure there is for the sport, some young people must be wooed in.

Connell was a fascinated Olympic television spectator.

“It was always cool to watch it,” she said, “seeing them do this amazing stuff.”

Which was a foundation, but not what led her to join the Owls.

“Coach Boggs sends an email to the whole school,” she said of his recruiting pitch to collect swimmers and divers. “I read it and thought it would be fun. I thought, ‘Why not?’ I love it.”

Lewis said she comes from a family of runners, and she was on the cross-country running team this fall.

“I love running,” Lewis said. “I love the water. I wish I could swim. But I always wanted to try it.”

A key to Lewis’ first-year adaptation to diving is partially due to her gymnastics background. Many with a gymnastic connection make the transition to diving. The apparatus is not the same, but the body control has much in common.

Weaver followed that route.

“The flipping aspect is very similar,” she said.

Gymnastics and divers twist in the air, twirl above ground, somersault before gravity calls them down.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Weaver, because diving is not something everyone can do, though she endorses it for all. “Everyone should try it. It’s a very graceful sport.”

Brown, who scored 136.50 points Saturday, said he tried diving at the urging of the coaching staff. The idea of trying something new appealed to him. But so did the coaching pep talk

“If I were to put my heart into it, it could be something I would be good at,” he said.

Conquering fear is part of successful diving, particularly at first. Some divers may feel going airborne is liberating, some may consider it risky.

“It’s more of a mental sport,” said Brown, who thinks the hardest part of diving is “probably being nervous.” But then it turns fun. “Once you get past that.”

Hendrix said friends were swimming and diving and she decided, “Oh, I guess I’ll try that.” She brought cheerleading and gymnastics backgrounds to her own diving, a sport she feels could probably use better public relations. “I think it’s an underappreciated sport, for sure. It gets overshadowed.”

Kevin Lopez, a Seymour grad, who became a diver in high school, helps teach the team of all freshmen and sophomores, and admits when the announcer rattles off all of the components of what the viewer will see, “It sounds very complex.”

Unless someone has the trained eye of a judge, and a diver is throwing in multiple revolutions and twists, the fan might not be able to recognize all of the moves.

“When you get the hardest dives it’s really hard to keep track,” Lopez said.

This group can have goofy fun, as Lopez put it, but works hard. The divers also know the payoff for a smooth dive.

“You get a reward out of it,” Lopez said.

Chasing Those Benefits

The way the Seymour pool is structured there is a separate diving well next to the racing lanes. That means diving can take place at the same time as swimming and that is what occurred Saturday.

Water in the diving area is 12 feet deep while the rest of the pool is five feet deep.

“We have a really nice facility,” Connell said.

It was almost as if two meets were going on simultaneously, though most of the Owls were clustered opposite the divers. Mostly, the divers had to cheer themselves on as they sought to cajole 6.0 scores from judges for each dive.

Sixes were hard to come by. Most of the scores were in the 4s and 5s, but when something went awry and marks dropped to the 3s, it was obvious what happened.

When Weaver cut the water cleanly and the surface barely rippled her scores on that dive were 5 and 5.5. When Lewis landed a tough dive on her back her scores were 3 and 2.5. The big splash hinted something was off. When Hendrix pierced the water like an arrow her scores were 4.5 and 5.5. When Connell’s feet and legs were not tightly locked together she was marked down.

Practicing these moves was test enough, but the diving degree of difficulty doubles after holiday vacation. When the Owls return to action Jan. 9 in a meet at Floyd Central they will be scored on 11 dives per meet instead of six showcasing flips, somersaults and twists freshly inserted into their programs.

“Over the next weeks,” Boggs said, “they have to do that.”

It will be all about mastering new tricks.

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