When I was young I was always climbing trees, swinging on the monkey bars and always, always upside down in some fashion or another. I taught myself to do front handsprings when I was about 7 or 8. I was always able to walk on my hands and stand on my head. So, naturally, I became a gymnast. The only problem was I was tall. And I developed early, so I definitely did not have a typical gymnast’s body. I could do floor and beam, because even with my height, it wasn’t too much of a problem. Vault was a little more challenging because of my long legs, but I was able to do it. I didn’t like it, but I could do it. The uneven parallel bars were another story entirely. Although I was strong, there was simply too much of me and I’d go swinging off the bars and land on my head. I can’t tell you how many times this happened. (Actually, this probably explains a lot about me!) The other ‘problem’ I experienced was an incredibly flexible back and an inability to control just how much I could bend backwards. Not only was I able I touch my feet to my head, both from the floor or on my hands, I could lean my head back even more and put my feet over my eyes. My back basically bent in half! While it sounds great to be so flexible, I also had trouble when attempting back handsprings and back flips. When you do a back handspring, you are supposed to take up approximately your body’s length on the floor. For example, if you were, say 5’5″ tall, when you go backwards, your hands should land about 3′ behind you and as your body continues back and your feet flip over, you are supposed to land about 65″ from where you started. Not me! I would go straight up and straight down and my hands would land in front of my feet. What this mostly meant was I landed on my head more times than I can tell you. It was a little better with back flips because my hands were not involved. However, this was not the proper way to do it and I would always be marked off at gymnastic meets because of it. Something had to change.
I was already on a swim team. Honestly, the only reason I ever joined the swim team to begin with was because there was a boy on the team that I liked and this was a way to spend time with him. What can I say? I was 13 years old. Now, this swim team was a summer team and not my high school team, and this particular boy went to a different high school because our neighborhood was split. Still, I decided to join my high school team, as well. Then I discovered the team had only one girl who was a diver. Ding, ding, ding! The bell went off in my head…become a diver…how hard can it be?!? So I told my mother I wanted to dive. I do not remember how this came about, but I suddenly had a private diving coach, Billy Ray Schmidt. At the time, he was the coach at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. I would be taken several days a week to practice. This was 1974. I was 14 years old, and that first year I placed 12th in Georgia for the high school championships. I had been diving for about 3 months at this point. My high school got 1st place, overall. It is not as good as it sounds; still, I had found my new passion.
While diving at Westminster, one of girls I dove with was Jenny Chandler, who went on to take the gold medal for 3 meter springboard at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. She was so good and an inspiration to watch at practice. I think I only dove with Billy Ray for about six months, or so. Then I got a new coach, Carlos de Cubas, the coach at Georgia Tech. I had diving practice every day of the year, and twice a day in the summer. I loved Carlos, and he really changed the way I dove, and he made me into the really good diver I eventually became. He was a gold medal winner from the Olympics in, I think, 1936 (I could be wrong about the year.) He was originally from Cuba and had a really thick accent. It took a while for me to even be able to understand what he was telling me.
In 1976 I had been diving for 2 years, and I had a decision to make…should I train for the Olympics in 1980? Since I came very late to the sport,and since I wanted a life outside of diving, and really, was I actually good enough to compete at the Olympics, I ultimately decided not to train with that goal in mind. I continued to dive through high school and then because I had two cousins who swam at Florida and for one of the same reasons I chose not to train for the Olympics, that being I wanted a life that consisted of more than just classes and practice, I made the decision not to dive in college. Oh, I dove intramural, and beat everyone, the boys and the girls, but I never competed again after high school. In the end, 1980 was the year the USA boycotted the Olympics in Moscow, and boy was I glad I had made the decision I did back in ’76.
It has been years, many, many years since I’ve even been on a diving board. I like to think I could still do some of the dives I used to. Realistically, though, I’m pretty sure I can’t. As for gymnastics, I can still stand on my head, and though I am relatively flexible, I am nothing like I used to be.
The pictures below are from a meet in the summer of 1975 when I was 15:
Front 1 1/2 somersault, pike position
Front dive 1 1/2 twist, layout position
Inward 1 1/2 somersault, tucked position
I won first place.