The year 2020 saw people diving into new activities and a new normal.
For several local athletes, they were literally going head first into something new – diving. Decorah High School alumni Rye Hawley-Bourcier, Christian Johnson, Henrik Marquardt and Maddie Putnam all have transitioned from high school athlete to Luther College diver – some with minimal diving experience.
Luther’s storied history
While Luther’s most recent seasons haven’t featured many divers, the Norse have a storied history of talented divers. However, current Head Coach Aaron Zander, a 2010 Luther graduate, notes diving has been a key part of the team’s success, past and present. The completion of the Dave and Patricia Miller Natatorium, which features a separate diving well, as well as the hiring of current assistant coach Abby Specht as a full-time diving coach, has Luther’s team primed for success.
“Diving is an incredibly unique sport – it’s the only sport where athletes land on their heads, and while gymnastics is a helpful background to have, it’s a huge adjustment for any athlete new to the sport,” he said. “The fundamentals for diving are a deep understanding of a person’s body – you have to be coordinated – a bit of a risk-taking spirit and a person who can take some physical punishment. It’s a sport based in fundamentals, so we progress slowly from basic skills to more complex dives.”
Divers must learn five basic categories: front, back, inward, reverse and twister. Dives can also be done in multiple positions like tuck, pike and straight and from the one-meter board as well as the three-meter.
Trying something new
Luther’s diving resurgence started last year with Landon Albro, a senior from Waterloo. He was less than 10 points away from putting up a nationals-qualifying score earlier this year.
One of Albro’s close friends on the team is Decorah’s Christian Johnson. Johnson, a sophomore who also competes in freestyle events, took up diving after Zander mentioned it last year.
“It surprised his mom immensely,” Zander joked. “He’s very body-aware and he knew it would significantly help the team at our championship meet.”
Johnson grew up swimming on the summer swim team but didn’t compete in high school until his junior season. Despite not having any competitive experience, Johnson has found the challenge of diving enjoyable.
“I would say the hardest part about diving would be making sure that I jump up, not out. Being a kid on the diving boards at the outdoor pool, you always want to jump out as far as you can with your tricks so doing tricks competitively is a little different,” he said. “The thing I like most about it is getting to throw new dives with the boys and messing around and joking throughout practice.”
Making the change
Johnson is good friends with Decorah graduate and Luther swimmer Lars Marquardt. A sophomore on the team, L. Marquardt competes in freestyle events. He told Zander that while he’d love to try diving, he knew a couple of athletes from high school he thought could compete in the sport – Rye Hawley-Bourcier and his brother, Henrik Marquardt.
“Rye and Henrick have taken to diving really quickly and are actually both very good at it. They have the training background from other sports (cross country, cycling and mountain biking and swimming) to want to learn, grow and get better,” said Zander.
Hawley-Bourcier came into the season having never been a part of a swim team. With many friends already on the team, Hawley-Bourcier could see he’d be a good fit to try diving.
“The culture of the Luther swim team is great, and I could definitely tell there is a shared passion for the sport every time I went into practice,” he said. “Seeing the coaches interact with the team was great to be part of and experience as well.”
For the junior, learning how to dive with the correct form was one of the challenges, as was finding the courage to try new dives for the first time.
H. Marquardt also joined the team without a swim team background. However, he had collegiate athletic experience as a cross country participant at Luther. The only diving experience H. Marquardt had was diving for fun as a Decorah lifeguard.
“The transition wasn’t too terrible because I had some experience with body control sports as a kid. I have always been into snowboarding/skiing, trampolines, some diving and gymnastics,” he said. “It was an adjustment with the different muscles used, but overall, I picked up on the sport relatively quick.”
While H. Marquardt only had one season on the boards, he said it’s been a great experience.
“The hardest part about picking up diving has been looking clean such as pointing my toes and squeezing my legs,” he said. “I have really enjoyed learning new dives with friends and the fun atmosphere the team brings.”
Adapting her skills
Decorah native Maddie Putnam has also taken her athletic skills to the diving board this season. Putnam, a former gymnast, began diving as a junior at Decorah High School.
She joins Mathea Diedrich of Deforest, Wis., as the lone female divers for the Norse.
While she does have two years of diving experience, the first-year student is still learning the sport, in particular going from a one-meter board to three-meter.
“It’s been hard to dive like a diver and not like a gymnast. The motions are similar but divers twist and use their legs in a different way than gymnasts do,” said Putnam. “I love the challenge of making each dive the best I can and learning how each dive requires something different from me. There is never a dull moment in diving because there are constantly new dives to learn, ‘old’ dives to improve, and hilarious conversations to be had with the other divers. The whole team is this big, supportive family, and the divers get to be part of that family while keeping our inside jokes.”
The “Decorah” advantage
Having so many team members from the same high school can have its benefits. From Zander’s view, it makes an already close diving team even closer.
“Diving is full of camaraderie. There’s a lot of down time, chatting and talking with each other about the skills they’re working on. They lift each other up during practice and keep each other going after a smack, a funky take-off or landing. They make fun of each other and inspire each other. Men’s and women’s divers train and compete together so it makes for a great dynamic when one gender starts pushing the other to ‘do more.’
“There is a family culture on our team, and between the divers as well as the collective swimming and diving team. We really value each other and enjoy watching the other groups compete.”