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One somersault and two-and-a-half rotations. Backwards.
In the space of just one meter above the pool’s surface, Renee Jordan '14 (Anchorage, Alaska) combined these movements to win the Division III Diving National Championship in March, followed by a fourth place finish in the three-meter competition later that weekend in Indianapolis. Her right arm ached from a recent injury, her hand bore internal scars of shattered bones, and her mind battled exhaustion and mounting pressure as she approached the board for one of her final collegiate dives. But she felt ready.
Renee Jordan hugs a fellow teammate after receiving the news she placed first.
“I had been preparing for nationals all year,” says Jordan, a three-time All-American. Really, she’s been preparing for four years.
In part, this preparation began with a break in competition. As a sophomore, while warming up for the conference championships, Jordan broke all the metatarsals in her right hand, an injury that sidelined her for the remainder of the season. She needed time off to collect herself and regain her confidence. Jordan went to Florida to train with a coach who has experience working with divers with hand injuries. There, she started from scratch. It wasn’t until December 2013 that Jordan completed the dive that had once injured her: a reverse one-and-a-half pike.
During most meets, between her dives, Jordan can be found by herself with her eyes closed, leaning against a back wall. One moment she is still, and then her arms move up and she dips forward. Her surroundings dissolve in an instant: the too-clean smell of chlorine, her jittering competitors, and the oppressive humidity. This is visualization, an all-important aspect of her preparation.
“I have specific things that I want to focus on for each dive to make them better,” Jordan says. “I’ll visualize my dive, and I’ll visualize the things that I need to do well. For reverses, I visualize keeping my shoulders in place so I don’t lean back. This way it doesn’t take me over the board.” When she dives, her body follows her mind. Imagination and practice come together each time she leaves the board.
At the championship, her body carried with it all the memories of her four years of collegiate diving. Before her final dive, Jordan knew she stood in second place, needing 48 points to win the national championship—in her words, “a tall order.”
In order to win, she needed to attempt a dive with an extremely high level of difficulty. “I have had trouble on this dive a lot before,” she says. “I remember walking up to the board and thinking, ‘Well, you’ve just got to do the best dive you can do. This is it.”
The crowd watched as Jordan turned, flipped, and in near silence, slipped into the pool. She was in control, mentally and physically. Jordan edged out her nearest competitor by five points.
As she hit the water, Jordan knew she had completed the dive to the best of her ability. And as she rose from the pool to greet the cheering crowd, her enthusiastic coach and family, and a waiting scoreboard, the feeling was verified. This time, her best was enough to make her the best in the country.
Soon, Jordan will decide between continuing her diving career or focusing on her other passion, chemistry. But for now, the decision can wait, as she enjoys the experience of winning a national title.
“Star athletes achieve national ranks” was originally published on March 28, 2014, in The Mac Weekly. This is an excerpt.