COLUMBIA — Christian Head adjusts the fulcrum of the 3-meter springboard with a quiet confidence. He walks to the end of the board, his shaggy, wet hair plastered to his head, and then pauses. His arms stretch out, and he takes a deep breath. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Head hurtles into the water, 10 feet down, and pops up again near the edge of the pool.
It’s tough when you’re a national level diver, and your splash is still taller than you are.
Head, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Gentry Middle School, and Ashley Shelton, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Southern Boone Middle School, both competed in the West National Diving Championships this weekend, held at the MU Student Recreation Complex. Despite their ages, both came into the meet with valuable national experience.
Head and Shelton each joined the Missouri Diving Club five years ago after seeing an ad in the newspaper. Though Shelton said the ad wasn’t anything particularly special, just that there was a new team forming and encouraging those interested to come, it managed to pry Head and Shelton from their other activities.
“I played a lot of sports,” Head said. “I thought swimming was too cold. Baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, I played everything. Baseball I quit because I got hit more than I could hit it.”
Shelton had also played other sports but immediately was taken by diving.
“When I started, I knew I wanted to keep on doing it,” she said.
Head and Shelton quickly became two of the most serious divers on the team and started gaining experience that’s now paying off.
“Between homework and diving and school, I don’t have too much time for other stuff,” Shelton said, rolling her eyes. “For my mom, it’s school then diving. For me, it’s probably diving then school.”
This is Head’s fourth national competition. Shelton also competed at nationals in 2006, in California. That’s given the two a level of comfort that’s allowing them to succeed.
“Some people haven’t been diving as long,” Shelton said. “For us, it’s old school. We know what’s going on.”
Coach Amy Gosney, who came to the team in August 2005 when they moved into their new home at the MU Student Recreation Complex, said both divers have responded impressively to the challenge of competing on the national stage.
“Since they started, they’ve grown tremendously, even in the past year,” Gosney said. “With both of them, we wanted to increase the level of difficulty with their dives. In order to stay competitive, they both had to learn new dives.”
Head’s front two-and-a-half dive on the 3-meter board and back one-and-a-half dive on the 1-meter board, dives he learned just a month-and-a-half ago, helped him finish 22nd in the boys 13-and-under 3-meter competition and 25th in the 1-meter competition this weekend. Shelton finished 27th in the girls 14-15 3-meter competition and 30th in the 1-meter competition.
“They definitely made the decision to invest their time and energy,” Gosney said. “Diving’s a priority. This isn’t just a year’s work for them. It’s a lot of years. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and commitment.”