The water continuously laps up and over the edge of the pool to my right, and to my left sits sophomore Julia Vincent. She laughs and answers my question, reliving a moment she will surely never forget.
“The whole time I was thinking, I hope I’ve done enough,” she said.
A soft smile rests on her face as she says this, and her South African accent describes the tense moment.
Weeks ago, Vincent sat next to a pool just like this, except instead of the smile I was looking at now, she was nervously shaking. She was in her home country of South Africa, and her coach Todd Sherritt, the head diving coach at South Carolina, stood by her side. Just minutes ago Vincent had finished her dives for the day, and now she waited. Fifteen minutes she stood there, awaiting the news of whether she had done enough to represent South Africa in the 2016 Olympics.
And finally it was announced. Vincent had qualified. Coach Sherritt was with her as it was announced.
“I was just telling her how proud I was of her … from looking at her, when you have a life long goal of doing something like that and it’s there and it happens and it’s real," he said. "I think at that point in time a sense of accomplishment comes in.”
For Vincent, though, the dream had not always been to be a diver. Growing up, she had actually wanted to go into gymnastics, and it wasn’t until high school that she saw the diving boards and decided to try them out. And now, just five years after discovering the sport, she finds herself representing both her country and school in it.
Getting to this point, obviously, wasn’t easy. Under coach Sherritt, the training has been rigorous: weightlifting three days a week, with practice in both the morning and afternoon on practice days. But with the Olympics now in the forefront of both her and her coach’s mind, the push for her improvement only gets stronger.
“We will continue doing what we are doing, but we have to get better," coach Sherritt said. "So there’s some areas on her entries … where she can get into the water cleaner, there’s some style and finesse stuff that we work on that we are going to improve. We are going to learn one new dive and we are going to just tune up and refine everything we have.”
Coach Sherritt knows that Vincent is ready for all the hard work left to put in before the Olympics, and the Olympics themselves. He calls her his “little lion” for how aggressive she is in her approach to everything inside the pool and knows she will respond well to any challenges thrown at her.
Yet as I sit next to her, I never once hear the happiness and calm leave her voice, or even once see the smile fade. I can’t imagine a girl whom her coach describes as “the most intense trainer you’ll ever see.”
With her smile and South African accent, Vincent may not come across as the world class competitor that she is. When she walks through campus, she may go undetected, appearing as just another student in a school as large as ours. But in just a few months she will be representing both her country and school in the largest event that sports have to offer, and maybe then her inner lion will show as she’s on the board, with the eyes of the world resting upon her.