I walk to the end of the platform and look down. I try to grab hold of something to keep me from falling, but the best my body does is instinctively curl my toes over the edge for grip. It doesn’t help.
“Arms above your head. Elbows touching your ears. Bend over, legs straight. Look where you want to go. Are you ready?” Emma Friesen asks me.
She’s standing a foot to my right, and the decorated diver is my partner in my first synchronized dive. It’s actually not going to be much of a dive, given what I’ve seen Friesen do in practice. There’ll be no flair – no jumping, no aerial spins or somersaults. I’m just going to fall forward and hope I wind up vertical before I hit the water.
I take a deep breath. My heart is pounding – I don’t know why. We’re only three metres up and the pool below is warm and inviting.
“No, but I’ll do it anyway,” I reply, brushing off my nerves. I stare intently at a line of white tile on the pool floor – that’s where I’m aiming.
“Up on your toes,” she instructs. “And 1… 2… 3….” I chicken out.
I watch Friesen gracefully lift off her toes, fall forward and down towards the pool. Our first attempt at a synchronized dive together leaves her solo in the water.
For whatever reason, watching her go it alone and seeing her come out of the water completely unscathed eases my fears, and I join her in descent on our next attempt. I hit the water hands first and smoothly pierce the surface. Painless. That was easy – once I got over the fear.
“I was really impressed,” Friesen, 25, tells me. “It’s not very natural for people; our bodies don’t want to go head-first. You were able to fall and look where you were going. That’s huge on your first day.”
Friesen has been diving for 16 years. She’s had a successful career in the sport thus far, including earning a full-ride diving scholarship to the University of Hawaii, winning an NCAA title in 2008 and competing well at national and international meets.
Despite so much time competing, Friesen says she still feels nerves when standing at the end of the springboard ready to dive.
“It’s a lot of pressure – you can’t miss a dive. So it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s awful in many ways, but I dig it,” she says. “There’s an intensity up there like nothing I’ve ever really experienced before.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Even as a first-timer (perhaps even more so because I’m a first-timer), it is scary up there.
“I think it’s the same as public speaking – that nervous energy. You feel like you want to throw up but there’s this adrenaline that’s hard to compete with,” she says. “It’s exciting. When I started diving I loved to spin and flip. And now the rest is history.”