Saddleback College diver Sarah Duke getting ready for Friday’s Orange Coast Conference Championship. Duke performs a somersault off the 3m diving board as part of her training. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)
On Friday, April 15, Saddleback College diver Sarah Duke placed fourth in the Orange Empire Conference Championships, qualifying to dive at the CCCAA Championships.
“Coming from nowhere to now, it’s remarkable,” said Curt Wilson, Saddleback College dive coach. “She has only been diving since September of last year.”
Coach Wilson has been coaching at Saddleback for five years now. He also coaches at the Crown Valley Divers in Laguna Niguel where they had won the 2013 and 2014 Amateur Athletic Union Diving National Championships.
Wilson said he enjoys coaching Duke, describing her as a great athlete to coach.
“She’s great,” Wilson said. “She’s fearless. Sarah has only been diving since September, it’s quite amazing how quickly she has picked it up. She is visual so she can watch other kids and emulate their moves and try them. Sarah is extremely dedicated and driven.”
Wilson has coached several successful individuals such as Jacob Swansen who won the 2016 OEC Championships and placed second at the 2015 California State Championships.
Coach Curt Wilson observing Duke’s dive in preparation for competition. Wilson critiques each diving maneuver to ensure good form. (Austin Weatherman/ Lariat)
“She’s placed at some of the events,” Wilson said. “She took first place at the Pasadena Invitational last weekend.”
Water sports have always been a part of Duke’s life, but swimming and diving was never in the situation.
“I love surfing,” Duke said. “It is the best sport ever.”
Duke met swim coach Jennifer Higginson through surfing, who then invited Duke to swim with Saddleback. It was then that Duke began her journey with diving.
“At first, I only took the swim class and at the very end, Jen let us jump off the diving boards,” Duke said. “I naturally went to do a front flip off the three meter and landed flat on my face. At first she was worried and then told me ‘You should be a diver.’”
Duke said she enjoys diving, not only because of the rush of doing flips off the diving boards but the atmosphere of the meets.
“Dive meets are much different than swim meets,” Duke said. “Everyone talks and cheers each other on. There are a ton of new divers from 6 months to year like me. There is one girl who has been diving forever and is really good, but it’s hard to hate her because she’s so nice.”
Teammate and veteran diver Jacob Swansen said he thinks highly of Duke.
“She tries really hard,” Swansen said. “She is very resilient. She puts a lot of time in diving and swimming, I can’t imagine how she gets awesome grades.”
Not only does success in her events count, but success in school is essential. Duke currently has a 4.0 GPA and plans to be veterinarian.
“It’s challenging,” Duke said. “As of right now, I’m a bio-chemistry major, hoping to go into veterinary science hopefully to research.”
Although Duke has found success in diving, continuing the sport at a four-year university is up in the air
“As of right now, it is questionable,” Duke said. “My course load is going to be really heavy at the vet program that’s going to be a pre-requisite for grad school so the next four years after [Saddleback] is going to be strenuous.”
Duke plans on attending UC Davis Veterinary Medical Center in San Diego or Oregon State.
Diving isn’t the only thing Duke has her hand in but competes on Saddleback’s swim team under Higginson.
“After the dive meets, I go to swim in the swim meets,” Duke said. “I have two or three individual events and I have three or four [relay events].”
Duke didn’t swim in high school and never planned on swimming in college, so the passion she has for surfing didn’t come with her.
“Swimming is an awful sport, in a good way,” Duke said. “There are some who like it, but I’m not one of those people, but I like water polo so I stay in shape for water polo.”
Saddleback Women’s water polo was 13-10 during the 2015 season, but the lack of success didn’t put down Duke’s outlook.
“Water polo was fun!” Duke said. “We had a really good team and it was a friendly team. All the girls loved each other and that’s kind of rare.”
Even though athletes do the work to succeed in their sport, Duke says her success comes from the coaches on her side.
“My coaches are the most phenomenal people ever,” Duke said. “Coach Curt [Wilson] has been with me from the start. He’s the one that taught me how to jump off the board so without him, nothing. Also, Coach David Mickle at Crown Valley Diving is awesome.”
Duke and Swansen continue on to the state championships at East Los Angeles College on May 5.