One woman diving team prepares for state meet

After years of begging by swim coach Nathan Whitten, junior Emma Livingston has finally found enough room on her schedule to join the dive team this season. Now, she is the lone member. Because the Jones Center, the swim team’s official practice facility, lacks a diving board, Livingston spends a few mornings a week prepping for competitions at the University of Arkansas’ Hper building with university coach Abel Sanchez and divers from various high schools. 

Swimmers outnumber divers at Har-Ber 44 to 1, which Livingston hopes to change. She utilizes social media to spread the word about the sport and her one-woman team.According to Livingston, as a result of her efforts, people have approached her with interest and questions. 

“Dive’s not a sport you really hear about. There’s swim and dive, but nobody really pays attention to the ‘dive’ part,” Livingston said. “I think being the only person on the team gives me an opportunity to show it to other people because it’s such a great sport.”

Yet, she acknowledges the inconvenience of joining dive since practices take place all the way in Fayetteville, and there are fees required to practice with the Razorback Diving Academy, like she does. 

When Sanchez arrived at the University of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas high schools asked him to take on coaching their divers through the Razorback Diving Academy because of the lack of coaches at their schools. He gladly took on the challenge, creating a team of divers, like Livingston, from various schools. 

Sanchez also hopes to expand diving in NWA and get more young people to join the sport.

“As far as getting kids involved with diving, that is my goal,” Sanchez said. “I think the best way to do this is to get involved with the elementary schools and let them know we have a diving team. If we can get kids involved at an early age, we’ll be able to elevate the high school programs when they get into high school.”

Although the time cheerleading took up caused her to hold off on joining the team for years, Livingston caught on quickly to diving, and attributes it partly to her background in cheer and tumbling.

“I don’t think I would be as good as I am without cheer, tumbling, or gymnastics because [diving] is basically just tumbling in water,” Livingston said.”I also do jumping events in track and having those extra workouts have helped me stay healthy and gain muscle for diving.”

Not only is she naturally gifted at diving, but she also enjoys the sport because of its healthy environment and the friendships she’s made with her fellow divers, who she recently had a sleepover and Christmas party with. 

According to Livingston, divers make sure to remain supportive despite competition. For example, even when someone belly flops, everyone still cheers.

“With my team, I felt so welcomed at my very first practice. The coach is one of the best coaches in any sport I’ve had,” Livingston said. “It’s one of the best environments in a sport I’ve ever seen before. Everybody’s just so supportive of each other.”

Despite her talent and love for the sport, Livingston has faced and conquered her fair share of struggles as she has learned to dive. For example, when she belly flopped on a dive earlier in the season, she had to work through a mental block after. 

“There are definitely hard aspects to [learning how to dive],” Livingston said. “It’s definitely a very mental sport just because a lot of things can be really scary.”

A typical practice begins with “dry land,” where divers warm up, condition, and workout on trampolines. Additionally, they jump off the “dry board,” which is similar to a diving board, but instead of diving into water, the athletes land on a whale mat. About an hour into their two hour practices, the divers get in the water and move through their dives for the rest of practice. 

Practices have helped Livingston excel at front dives, which she describes as her strength. Yet, out of the five categories: front, back, inward, reverse, and twister; she still struggles most with twisters. 

Each of the five types of dives is performed at every high school meet on a one meter board, whether the meet is a 6 dive meet or an 11 dive meet. At 6-dive meets, competitors participate in each dive and one more of the judges choice while at 11-dive meets, divers must do two dives in each category besides in one where they carry out three. Each of the dives has a degree of difficulty from 1.1 to more than 3, which is multiplied by the averages of the three judges’ scores. 

According to Livingston, in one year, she has made tremendous progress. Although she was first introduced to the sport at a diving camp in eighth grade, this is the first year she has really taken the time to learn the entirety of the sport. Her PR is 283, which Livingston said is average among her competitors and teammates: many of whom have been practicing everyday for years. 

“This is my first year doing it, I don’t have a background in diving at all, I am doing fairly well in meets, and learning a lot of pretty difficult skills,” Livingston said. “I would say all that is a pretty big accomplishment.”

Livingston wants to continue the sport and keep improving. She is working towards meeting a few lofty goals, including conquering her fear of heights by diving off the three meter platform in addition to hitting some more challenging dives she’s been working on. 

Yet, right now, she is focusing on what she deems reasonable. Because it’s her first experience at state, Livingston doesn’t know what to expect for the meet on Feb 24-25 in Little Rock.

“I guess my goal is to just try to get a PR,” Livingston said, “and just do all my dives and not belly flop.”