A small, nervous-looking 12-year-old boy slowly crept up to the edge of the diving board at Bannockburn Pool. His only focus was to successfully complete a front flip. To his elementary-school-aged self, it seemed like all the pressure in the world was on his shoulders. He went through his hurtle, reached the end of the board and jumped. Everything was going great — until he slipped. As he over-rotated in mid-air, Liam Gilbert-Lawrence was only thinking one thing: this is going to hurt.
Luckily, Gilbert-Lawrence — now a senior on the Whitman dive team — used this mishap and other mishaps to shape himself into one of the team’s best divers. His determination also ultimately led to many colleges recruiting him.
Gilbert-Lawrence started diving in sixth grade at Bannockburn, his local pool. This was the first summer Bannockburn had a dive team, and the first time Gilbert Lawrence took jumping off a diving board seriously. It was all too common for him at first to make a fool of himself when he first began, he said.
“I was known to be a flopper,” Gilbert-Lawrence said. “I had the bruises to prove it, too.”
Gilbert-Lawrence’s lively personality and never-quit attitude have been essential in his continuation of the sport, he said. When he first started, he said that learning the dives didn’t come easily, especially because he started diving later than the other top divers he competes against now, he said.
“It was tough at the beginning,” Gilbert-Lawrence said. “I was used to doing flips with my friends and not being critiqued on any of my dives.”
After two more years of summer league practices and private lessons, Gilbert-Lawrence decided to try out for the Mid-Atlantic sector of the U.S. National Team when he was 14 years old. There are two teams within the sector; the development team and the team that participates in nation-wide competitions. Although starting his career on the development team, Gilbert-Lawrence currently competes for the latter.
Gilbert-Lawrence said that adrenaline is the main factor that drives him during competitions, especially when going off the high dive, which spans 33 feet in the air.
National team meets usually lasts three days long, spanning from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. Gilbert-Lawrence doesn’t mind the length of the meets at all, he said.
“Weekend meets are great, because I just really, really enjoy diving,” he said. “My diving friends make the sitting around enjoyable.”
Gilbert-Lawrence typically performs six to seven dives during his national team meets. He chooses to perform dives that have the highest degree of difficulty, known as DD. His favorite dives are the front two and a half and an inward one and a half because the DDs for these dives are high, and Gilbert-Lawrence has mastered these dives.
Even though Gilbert-Lawrence has been diving in national competitions for years now, he still gets nervous right before he competes due to the mentally-taxing nature of the sport, he said.
“If you mess up, you don’t get a re-do,” Gilbert-Lawrence said, “It’s months and months of training all leading up to one moment.”
Junior Erez Yarden, who also dives for Whitman, has known Gilbert-Lawrence for six years. Yarden said that Gilbert-Lawrence sets a high, yet necessary bar of expectations for all the divers on the Whitman team.
“He cheers us on like it’s life or death during the meets,” Yarden said. “It instills confidence in all of us and makes the diving experience much more enjoyable.”
Gilbert-Lawrence began drafting emails and setting up phone calls with colleges during the beginning of his junior year. Multiple colleges invited him on recruiting trips to their campus because they were interested in him diving for their school. During these trips, Gilbert-Lawrence would tour the facilities and spend the night with a current team member.
Gilbert-Lawrence is looking for a college with both strong academics and a competitive diving team. Although many divers have already committed, Gilbert-Lawrence is currently weighing his options regarding what college to dive for.
“The whole process has been pretty stressful,” he said. “Waiting to see if the colleges were impressed with dives in my videos was very nerve-racking.”
As his last year of diving for Whitman continues, Gilbert-Lawrence is focused on leading the Vikes to success in all of their dive meets, whether that’s a meet against Churchill or Metros Finals.
“I would be lying to you if I said college wasn’t on my mind during dive season,” Gilbert Lawrence said. “But I can’t take my last year of diving here at Whitman for granted.”
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