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Diving back in

Nancy Yaeger contributing Photographer Car Yaeger ’17 releases from a dive.
Nancy Yaeger contributing Photographer
Car Yaeger ’17 releases from a dive.

I was standing on the end of the diving board, hands shaking, heart pounding. Today was the day I would finally get to dive off the board. I’d done the summersault a thousand times before, but recently, all I could concentrate on was the one time it went wrong. Taking a deep breath, I tried, but failed yet again. I wouldn’t commit to the dive. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, I was so just too overcome by fear that I just froze in the air. It was months before I finally realized my goal, and it took letting go to finally achieve it.

In diving, half the battle is convincing your brain that your body is prepared, so mental blocks are normal; I just wasn’t familiar with them. I was introduced to blocks after hitting the board on a lead-up dive, an easy dive. I don’t remember much about the accident. I was standing on the board, and the next thing I know I was wearing a neck brace in the hospital because of a seizure. Returning to diving, however, didn’t scare me nearly as much as the prospect of quitting a sport I love.

After coming back to the sport a month later, the once easy lead-up dive now caused me intense physical and mental pain. I set goals for myself every practice, telling myself I’ll get the dive off the board by tomorrow, next week, this month. But every time the deadline came, I didn’t do the dive. I went home after practice every night, near tears, and every day I went back and gave up halfway through. I felt stuck, but I wanted to get back to diving more than I’d ever wanted anything, and I was working harder for it than I’d ever worked before.

I was ready to quit when I took two months off. I needed a break; I couldn’t continue this cycle of failing, getting frustrated, breaking down and failing again. During this time off, I realized diving wasn’t the only thing in my life and quitting wouldn’t be the end of the world. Failing, and subsequently quitting, were no longer worst-case scenarios—they were just realistic possibilities.

The pressure was off. I was able to let go of my fear and go for the dive. There was never a happier moment in my life than landing in the water, knowing that I’d actually done it; I’d actually completed a summersault. It was the ugliest one-and-a-half ever executed, but that didn’t matter. It was a moment I’d imagined thousands of times.

Ironically, the key to my success was accepting the possibility of failure.