One man’s quest to fall gracefully

By Glenn Battishill

The Routine

It’s after 5 p.m. and the swimming pool in the Rec Center is closed for regular students. On one side of the pool a dozen members of the swim team practice together, chatting during breaks and giving each other advice. On the other side of the pool is the entire Ashland University men’s diving team.

Colin MacDonald.

He approaches the diving board, climbs the steps and approaches the edge. He peers into the calm water for a minute. MacDonald bounces a few times, testing the board. After a few bounces he closes his eyes, walks to the middle of the board and turns to face the pool again.

Deep breath. Two huge steps, an even huger bounce, and MacDonald is airborne. His body compresses as he does two forward flips and dives into the pool, cleanly puncturing the water.

The pool ripples from his dive but after a matter of seconds the water has completely calmed again.

MacDonald is out of the pool in one smooth motion, grabbing his small towel in the process.

He dries his face, neck, hair, arms, legs and his back in that order. This is his drying ritual and it never changes. He probably couldn’t change it if he wanted to.

“Drying off is a functional thing and a mental thing,” MacDonald said. “I’m drying off because the water is really cold and because if you are wet while you are in the middle of dive and you try grab your legs your wet hands might slip and you’d break your dive.

Besides, it’s one of my routines. Diving is so much muscle memory that everything is a routine. I don’t even notice it sometimes.”

The Double Edged Sword

MacDonald may be the only diver at Ashland University but he still gets his own coach. Lee Drugan graduated from Ashland University in 2011 and was a member of the Ashland diving team when MacDonald was a freshman.

He was brought on as the diving coach when the previous diving trainer stepped down for family reasons.

When Drugan arrives to diving practice he begins critiquing MacDonald immediately.

“I won’t ask you to do anything I don’t think you can do,” Drugan said as MacDonald climbs out of the pool. He pushes MacDonald but he knows MacDonald can take it. Every time MacDonald’s head resurfaces after a dive Drugan critiques him.

“Even if he is perfect on a dive he can always do better,” Drugan said. “Being coached means that you are going to get negative feedback and it’s how he takes that feedback and morphs it into drive and determination that makes him such a good diver.”

Drugan and MacDonald both agree that the one-on-one coaching is a double-edged sword.

“It’s nice that I get the personalized coaching and he only has me to focus on,” MacDonald said. “He tells me after every dive what I need to do to get better. I also get more dives in because I don’t have to wait for anyone else.”

Being the only diver is a lonely position, especially during morning practices.

“I hate being the only one here in the morning,” MacDonald said. “I have to train and practice by myself and if I’m having a bad practice I don’t get to take a break and collect myself. I have to get back on the board and go again and again.”

MacDonald mentally prepares himself in much the same way.

“Before I dive I go over ever single move in my head,” MacDonald said. “I go through every dive several times just to get my body ready to do it. When I’m at a meet I can usually relax for a while until I’m two divers away from going, then I start mentally practicing.”

The Quest

Like most athletes, MacDonald has had his fair share of disappointments. When he was a junior in high school his goal was to qualify for state championship but shortly before he was set to dive in regionals he came down with the flu and pneumonia.

He finished two places away from state qualifications.

When he did finally qualify for state as a high school senior he felt “shell-shocked” and swam in what he describes as one of his worst meets ever.

Diving for Ashland University has given him a second chance at championship.

One day when he was a sophomore MacDonald said his ankle just started hurting one day. After seeing three different ankle specialists and four and a half months he finally had an answer.

His tendon had caught in his retinaculum (a band in the ankle that helps to stabilize tendons) and he had to have surgery to correct the issue.

MacDonald was striving to qualify for nationals last year but his injured ankle kept him in a boot for most of the entire year that prevented him from practicing or even conditioning.

As a junior, MacDonald thinks of nationals every day, every practice, every dive.

“I wanted to qualify for nationals last year but my ankle made me miss the entire season,” he said. “After that, I knew I had lost one of my chances for nationals. It’s what drives me and gets me back on the board every day. I want to qualify for nationals as a junior to get my feet wet and then really compete as a senior.”

But the biggest thing standing in MacDonald’s way isn’t other teams, injuries or the lonely practices; it’s his self-confidence.

“I imagine the worst case scenario in my head before a new dive,” MacDonald said. “It holds me back from attempting new dives especially if I mess up the first time. It shatters my self-confidence.”

As MacDonald nears the end of the board he takes a deep breath, turns to put his back to the pool and bounces. He bounces again. He closes his eyes and lightly bounces. Another deep breath. More bouncing. His stance says he is ready to dive but his face tells another story. Still bouncing. He bites his lip and finally his eyes snap open again. But his eyes are cool, calm and focused. His body relaxes and the bouncing stops. All doubt has drained out of his body and has been replaced by smooth confidence. Another deep breath. Two bounces and MacDonald gracefully backflips into the water.

MacDonald is out of the water before it calms. He grabs his towel. He dries his face, neck, hair, arms, legs and his back in that order. This is his drying ritual and it never changes.