EVERY FOUR YEARS WE PREPARE ourselves for a spectacular show of matched strength and talent, constant media coverage, and intense national pride. No, not the presidential election, but that would certainly get interesting if tiny lycra outfits and lots of bouncing were involved. We’re talking the Olympics, this year hosted in Beijing, China; the XXIX Olympiad will feature one of UM’s very own—Jenna Dreyer.
contributing research_sarah chase
But this is neither Jenna’s nor the University’s first time in the Olympic spotlight; In diving alone, UM has seen 27 Olympians, including Matt Gribble, Wendy Williams, and Greg Louganis—famed diver of the 1980s.
As for Jenna, she first competed at the Olympic level in the 2004 games in Athens, Greece. There, Jenna reached the semi-finals, something she says was “a dream come true.”
Since age 15 when she left her home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Dreyer has been training to compete as an Olympic diver. A self-proclaimed “water baby,” Dreyer doesn’t believe that she inherited her diving ability from her parents, but she does admit that they contributed to her athletic prowess; her father was a national competitor for paddle skiing (“like surfing on your bum”) and her “mum” did gymnastics and ballet.
Because South Africa had little to offer in terms of indoor, heated pools and adequate diving facilities, Dreyer had little choice in leaving home if she wished to continue training, so off she went to Canada in 2001 to train with a specific diving coach. There she was homeschooled in order to satisfy South African curriculum, and received her high school diploma from South Africa. But the move to Canada to become an international diver was a culture shock for Dreyer.
“It was hard at first because [Canada] was so different, recalls Dreyer, “it’s warm in South Africa and I had never seen snow”. Luckily though, “all my friends there were from training, and they were from other countries too, so that helped me to adjust.”
After training in Canada, Dreyer accepted the invitation to dive at Miami. With a little help from her older brother, Marc, a diver at Ohio State University, Jenna was on her way to a successful first season of Varsity level competitive diving.
“I knew about Miami Diving’s great reputation,” says Dreyer, “but [Marc] helped me get in touch with the right people, and really helped me adjust to life in America.” Adjust she did, because it wasn’t long before she found herself outperforming her teammates and competition. In her first season as a Hurricane, Dreyer received Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) “Diver of the Year” honors. She was also named an All-American on the one-meter board and received honorable mention All-American for the 3-meter board and 10-meter platform.
At the ACC Championships, Dreyer placed first in the three-meter event, breaking the meet record with a score of 320.75, and also placed fourth on the 10-meter platform. She capped off an amazing freshman performance with a sixth place finish at the NCAA championships on the 1-meter board. Dreyer racked in the bragging rights with her laundry-list of awards, honors, and placements, but according to friends, is “incredibly modest, you would never know she had been to the Olympics if you didn’t happen to notice the small Olympic ring necklace she wears.”
IN 2006, DREYER MANAGED to register third-place finishes in the finals of the ACC Championships after a sophomore season recovering from injuries. She endured spinal stress fractures, an injury not uncommon to divers due to the high impact dives and hyperextension, which causes back spasms because the muscles are trying to protect the spine. But Dreyer quickly bounced back and the next year she was honored with the title of All-American in 2007. She notched seven first-place finishes in one-meter diving events, more than any other Hurricane diver, and was again named ACC Diver of the Year, as well as the ACC champion in the one-meter event.
The accolades, according to Dreyer, are nothing compared to what she hopes to accomplish this year. Nothing short of competing in the finals at this summer’s Olympics will satisfy Dreyer.
“If I don’t make it to the finals,” said Dreyer, “I’m going to be a little disappointed. I feel like I’m doing some of my best diving right now. Of course I’d love to stand on the podium, but I’m still young, so I’ll be satisfied with a trip to the finals.” As a two-time ACC Diver of the Year, a multiple ACC Championship winner, and third place finisher in the NCAA Championships, Jenna would be selling herself short if she didn’t have expectations like those.
Recalling the 2004 games, Jenna remembers, “It was truly amazing, it was everything you think it would be and more.” She has since been training for a second run at the Olympics, and has already completed qualifiers in Beijing.
Now, with the Olympics only a few months away, Dreyer is in the prime of her training. Practicing with the team for four hours a day, she is constantly preparing. When she is not readying her body, she is working on her psychological toughness.
“Olympic diving is a much more mental game,” says Dreyer. “It’s the ultimate stage, and everyone is watching. If your head isn’t right, you’re going to mess up.” On the “ultimate stage” Dreyer didn’t perform as well as she would have liked. She finished in 17th place, reaching only the semifinals in her first trip.
“I wasn’t too upset with my performance, but I just know that I will do better this time,” she says.
Although Dreyer said wasn’t nervous on her last trip to the Olympics, but she was in awe of the athletes around her.
“I WAS DOING LAUNDRY NEXT to Yao Ming and riding the bus with Ian Thorpe. It’s just a big wow.”
So what does someone who “plays” in a pool all day do in her spare time?
“I really like to bake,” Dreyer says quietly, afraid that her affinity for sweets will somehow get her in trouble with her coach. “That’s something that people don’t really know about me, but it’s something that I really enjoy. I just bake for fun.”
Even as she describes the meticulous recipe for her favorite treat, cupcakes, smiling more with each ingredient she adds, Dreyer constantly notes that her coach has already threatened to “come over and turn off my oven.”
But she laughs as she talks about her coach, Randy Ableman, and her team mates, the people she says have been most influential in her life.
“I know it sounds cliché,” Dreyer says, “but my teammates and I are like family. There are so many times when we have to stop practice because we are laughing so hard, but then we are right back to work. Coach understands us and I think that’s why [we are so successful].”
HER PASSION FOR BAKING has not distracted her from her future plans either. After graduating, Dreyer plans to spend a few more years competing on the International circuit before pursuing a career as a teacher. As an elementary education major, Dreyer understands how difficult it might be to continue diving and teach at the same time.
“As much as I’d love to start teaching right away, I know it wouldn’t be fair to the kids,” Dreyer calmly stated, showing that she has thought her plan through. “I would have to miss so much school for the meets; I could just never feel right about doing that.”
On that note, because she is training for her second trip to the Olympic Games, Dreyer has decided to red-shirt this season, but continues to work out with the team. Traveling has been hard on Dreyer—as a student, it is stressful to miss a few days of class, but for certain events, she is forced to miss a week or two at a time.
“It’s really hard,” Dreyer says of missing class, “but the school is really good about helping me with work. Coach makes sure I don’t fall behind either.” A work ethic like hers would be perfect for the classroom, when she is ready.
“I’m looking forward to teaching, but I love diving,” Dreyer added, “and if I could do it forever, I would.”<<