Hannah Donner doesn’t remember how she first started diving.
“I think my parents signed me up, or I was interested in it,” she said. “I’m not really sure.”
But she does remember her first meet — and it only took that first meet for her to fall in love with the sport. Donner was nine years old, competing in a summer league meet at her old club East Gate. She still has a clear and vivid memory of her first dive — “I was so nervous to get up on the board,” she said.
She jumped backward off the diving board and dove into the water. Her initial worry that she messed up quickly disappeared when she surfaced and heard the claps from the crowd.
“I remember how I felt — it was so much fun to compete, but also nerve-wracking at the same time,” she said.
Today, Donner dives for both Whitman and the Montgomery Dive Club’s AAU national team. Donner joined Whitman Swim and Dive in her freshman year; she’s now a senior, the captain of the team, and also plans to dive in college.
Head coach Chris Schlegel and assistant coach Mira Chung oversee Whitman’s swim and dive team; since they’re both primarily swim coaches, Donner is in charge of leading and organizing the dive team.
Her leading role on the team didn’t come without focus and persistence. Donner’s ability to stay on task during practice contributes to her success with diving, diver Jonathan Lindstrom said.
“She doesn’t get off topic when we’re warming up,” he said. “During our club practices, she’s always doing the workouts and never gets distracted.”
Donner prepares for a dive during a meet against Sherwood.
Donner also consistently works to perfect her dives. She practices four times every week year-round with her club team and an additional two times every week during Whitman’s season.
She enjoys different aspects of both teams. Because her teammates on the club team are all at a similar skill level, they have a better understanding of each other’s difficulties and progress with dives, she said.
Whitman’s team, on the other hand, contains a variety of skill levels, but is more spirited and fun, she said. She also appreciates how Whitman’s dive team works alongside the swim team, many of whom know little about dive.
“It’s a really fun environment with them,” Donner said. “To teach them and also to see their reactions when they’re watching us dive.”
Aside from the team aspect, Donner also loves the mental and physical challenges that come with diving and the rewarding feeling of mastering new dives. The rush she gets after finally learning a dive she’s been struggling with is one of her favorite aspects about the sport, she said.
“You feel like ‘wow, I did it,’” Donner said. “Your coach is cheering for you, and you’re just really happy.”
Donner’s mother, Patricia Donner, said the challenges diving provides is perfect for the persistent attitude Hannah possesses.
“She looked at diving as something that she can conquer and that she wanted to do,” Patricia said. “And she did it. She succeeded.”
But Donner can’t conquer everything right away, and the challenges are often frustrating for her. One of the most difficult parts of the sport is trying to master tough dives; she struggles most with inward dives, but she’s also struggled with all of her dives at some point, she said.
Though fixing dives can make practice aggravating, another difficult aspect Donner faces is underperforming at meets, which is an unavoidable part of diving, she said.
“My dive in warm ups will be really good, and then I’ll be like, ‘oh, okay, the meet is going to go fine,’” she said. “But then in the meet, that dive I did well in warm-ups will be really bad.”
These mistakes are more common under pressure, a characteristic of meets which varies depending on crowd size. Whitman competes in various meets, including dual meets against other MCPS high schools, Divisionals, the regional and state-wide championships, and the Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships (Metros), which includes both public and private school teams from around the D.C. area.
This year, Donner placed first in the MCPS Division 1 Championship Feb. 1, outscoring the second place diver by more than 25 points.
Donner mid-dive at the MCPS Division 1 Championship.
Metros — Donner’s favorite — has the most teams in attendance and the largest audience of these meets. Although she doesn’t particularly enjoy diving at Metros because of the stress, she likes to watch her teammates from both Whitman and her club team compete, she said.
Last year, Whitman Girls Dive won Metros for the first time in program history. Donner and two teammates, Naomi Douek (‘19) and sophomore Lily Hsu outscored all the other schools’ divers to claim first place.
“We won Metros out of 50 schools and there are about 60 divers,” she said. “I think that was a really big highlight of my diving career.”
During her final year of diving for Whitman and MDC, Donner is preparing for the next stage in her diving career: college. She is currently exploring a few NCAA Division III options for next fall.
In an extremely competitive college atmosphere, Donner hopes that the parts of diving she loves don’t fade away, she said.
“This might sound kind of cliche,” Donner warned. “But I hope to continue enjoying diving. I hope the stress that comes with college sports doesn’t ruin my ability to have fun.”