Competing to Find Out

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As a religious pacifist, I have learned a great deal on the battlegrounds of competition.

I am currently in the heat of my second collegiate season as a NCAA Division 1 diver. I have been diving for over five years, and I’ve been a Quaker for as long as I can remember. I started diving in my sophomore year of high school, and at the end of my senior year, I signed to Western Illinois University on an athletic scholarship.

I spent the summer before leaving for college preparing both in and out of the pool. I put in many hours – in the pool and in the weight room. I also discovered that diving wasn’t the only commitment weighing on my mind that summer. The idea of moving a thousand miles away proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Luckily, I wasn’t the only person in my peer group about to embark on such a journey. I remember sitting with other Friends at Intermountain Yearly Meeting in an impromptu “meeting for worship with attention to “AAAHH! What the heck are we doing?!” From out of the silence, we spoke about our excitements and our reservations concerning what the coming year could bring. In the end, we all rose giddy with excitement to find out.

As I write this, I am neck deep in the 2016/17 aquatics competition season. Just a couple weeks ago, we finished our mid-season meet, where we traveled to Indianapolis to compete against other schools from all across the country. At this two-day event, we competed with Olympians from Canada, Australia, and even U.S. silver medalist Steele Johnson. During the week leading up to the event, I could feel the nerves already start to set in. It seemed that the more I tried to relax, the more anxious I became. During a practice just three days before we were to leave for the competition, I hit the board on a dive. A back one and one-half summersault, and as I come down, I hit the back of my knee and scraped my calf on the board. I was devastated. The injury left me with limited ability to practice before one of the biggest meets of the season.

Finally, the first day of competition arrived, which included the one-meter springboard competition. During our hour of warm-ups, the boards were crowded with thirty-six divers who would be competing that morning. By that point, my nerves had gotten the better of me, and I forget everything we had worked on during practice. Competition would start at precisely 10 AM. On the third of my six warm-up dives, I hit the board again. It happened on the same back one and one-half summersault, and after I hit the water, I just sat under there for a while, trying to figure what to do next. The athletic trainers took me into a back room and, after looking my leg over, gave me the OK to continue competition. Regrettably, after hitting the board, I was so far in my head that I couldn’t think of anything besides the crash. The rest of the day never got any better, and I finished an impressive last place.

Day two, the three-meter springboard competition arrived. I awoke even more nervous than I had the previous morning. Warm-up came and went before I felt ready, and competition began. I was number thirty-four in the order of thirty-six divers, so I had a little over a half-hour before my first dive. I knew I couldn’t sit in the pool – watching all the other divers would just make me more anxious. So I told my coach that I would be in the hallway. I asked if she would come find me before it was my turn. In the hallway, the roar of the crowd softened, and I was able to settle into worship. In my reflections, I thought back to that impromptu worship at IMYM. I remembered my first diving practice ever. I remembered all the alarms that had ever woken me up at 5 AM for morning weight training. I remembered that I was there in a hallway beside a pool a thousand miles away from home because this is what I love to do. When my coach stepped into the hallway and asked if I was ready, I rose, giddy with excitement to find out.  ~~~

Quetzal Gallagher is a sophomore at Western Illinois University, studying economics. He is a recent co-clerk of the Senior Young Friends of Intermountain Yearly Meeting and is a member of Colorado Springs Friends Meeting (IMYM).