Gymnasts and divers

By Bill Stone

SGS co-publisher

 As I looked at the IHSA diving results from mid-November, I noticed several were key gymnasts for several high-school gymnasts.
I e-mailed some gymnasts/divers about their experiences in their sports.
The athletes being profiled are:


Meredith Beird
St. Charles co-op senior: (2-time state diving qualifier: 26th in 2010 and 42nd in 2009)

Kaitlyn Neiheisel
Lincoln-Way co-op junior (2-time state diving qualifier: 31st in 2010 and 36th in 2009)

Christina Pekar
Prospect senior (2010 state diving qualifier, 18th)

Sarah Pekar
Prospect senior (2010 state diving qualifier, 40th)


How did you become interested in diving?

Beird: “I started diving my sophomore year, whereas I started gymnastics when I was about 2. I started diving because my friend and her sister, who were both on the gymnastics team at the time, did diving and they thought that since I had the gymnastics background, diving would probably be fairly easy for me to pick up.”
Neiheisel: “I started competing in gymnastics when I was 9. I just started to learn how to dive when I was 15. I became interested in diving my sophomore year in high school because I was looking for a
sport to do in the fall season.”
Sarah Pekar: “(My twin sister, Christina and I) started gymnastics when we were 3. We joined the American Academy of Gymnastics and started competing when we were about 6. I became interested in diving at my freshman orientation at Prospect. Unfortunately, we wanted to get used to the high- school environment before taking on too many activities so we started diving our sophomore year.”
Christina Pekar: “I started gymnastics when I was 3, but I did not start diving until my sophomore year in high school. I became really interested in diving before entering my sophomore year because the
diving coach informed us and wanted us to give it a try.”

What is your greatest diving moment?

Neiheisel: “I have two great diving moments and it is hard to pick ust one.  One of my greatest diving moments was when I qualified for tate my first year ever diving.  My other great moment was when I hit
my reverse and a half at sectionals. These are my greatest moments because I achieved the goals I set.”
Sarah Pekar: “My greatest diving moment is the sectional meet my senior year.  I was competing four new dives and I hit all of them and feel that’s what got me into state. Going to state was one of my biggest goals since I started and making it was such an accomplishment.”
Christina Pekar: “My greatest diving moment is when I made it to state this year.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.”
Beird: “I would say that my greatest diving moment for me was competing at the state competition this year. I made it to state my junior year as well, although that meet did not turn out as well as I had hoped. This year, however, I competed about as well as I could have hoped for and ended up 26th, which I was very happy with.”


What positive effects do you believe the diving season has on your gymnastics season?

Christina Pekar: “The diving season helps a lot with gymnastics. It’s a great way for me to keep up with my flexibility as well as helping me learn to twist and flip better. I’m able to do harder tricks into
water that are great practice for tricks I will do in the gym.”
Sarah Pekar: “I believe diving and gymnastics go hand and hand. The biggest impact diving had on my gymnastics is my air sense.  Floor wasn’t always my best event because I was a horrible back twister. When I started diving, I was forced to learn how to twist the right way because it is a very big part of the sport.  My diving and gymnastics coach really worked together to fix my back twisting and it finally paid off my junior and senior year for both gymnastics and diving.”
Beird: “I think that diving has been a big help for me with regards to the gymnastics season. This is because diving has similar feelings concerning flipping and twisting, which helped ready me for gymnastics, as well as helped me gain new gymnastics skills because of the dives I had been working that were very similar.”
Neiheisel: “The diving season keeps me in shape for gymnastics.”


What challenges do you believe the diving season has on your gymnastics season?:

Beird: “I think the biggest challenge is that even though gymnastics and diving have similar feelings to them, they are definitely not the same sport. One of the main challenges I faced when I was starting to dive was the fact that twisting in diving is completely different than twisting in gymnastics. Also, in gymnastics, you always have to land on your feet. In diving, you have to get over the uncomfortable feeling of landing on your head. Since many of the members on our diving team also do gymnastics, our coach was constantly telling us that we looked too much like gymnasts (which in diving is not exactly
a compliment).”
Neiheisel: “Diving overlaps the beginning of the gymnastics season. Therefore, I start the gymnastics season late.”
Christina Pekar: “The only challenge with diving and gymnastics is that diving keeps me out of the gym.  So although I am able to work on tricks on the board that will help with flipping and twisting I am unable to prepare for bars and vault.”
Sarah Pekar: “The biggest challenge I have going from diving season to gymnastics season is staying in shape. Diving doesn’t take the amount of strength and endurance as gymnastics, but both sports require agility and flexibility.”


Do you find some, many or most divers to either be current or past gymnasts?

Sarah Pekar: “I believe that most divers have a gymnastics background. If you ask divers, a lot would say that having a gymnastics background is pretty important.  Gymnastics teaches you how to control your body in the air and also gives you the flexibility you need for diving.”
Beird: “Many of the divers I have talked to, both on our team and on other teams, seem to have some kind of gymnastics background. I feel that to most divers, this is a benefit because you know how to control your body in the air and you know more of the techniques with flipping.”
Neiheisel: “I have found that a lot of divers have been past gymnasts. Being a gymnast, I can say that gymnastics has greatly helped my ability to learn dives faster because gymnastics gives you air sense,
flexibility, strength, and courage to overcome fears.”
Christina Pekar: “Out of all the divers I have met only two have not been gymnasts before diving.  Many of the gymnasts I have talked to believe that a gymnastics background is a huge benefit.”


Would you offer any advice to gymnasts who might consider diving?:

Christina Pekar: “Some advice that I would give to gymnasts is to give diving a chance! A lot of gymnasts are hesitant but it is a great way to do a lot of the same tricks as gymnastics without being so rough on the body.”
Sarah Pekar: “Many club gymnasts have been doing gymnastics from a very young age.  Diving offers something new for gymnasts who find themselves getting sick of doing the same sport for so long.  Also, I know all gymnasts would agree that gymnastics takes such a big toll on their bodies.  Diving allows gymnasts to use their past abilities to excel at the sport without putting so much strain on their bodies.”
Beird: “I would say that they should go for it. I had a lot of fun diving, and it taught me that I can overcome fears, as well as doubts, and push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. It was a great experience for me and I have not yet met a former gymnast who absolutely disliked diving.”
Neiheisel: “Do it. It’s a lot of fun.”


Is there anything else you would like to share about your diving and gymnastics experiences?:

Neiheisel: “I started doing gymnastics at a competitive level when I was young and never dreamed that it would lead to diving. I am very grateful for what gymnastics has done for me since it has given me the
ability to become a good diver.”
Sarah Pekar: “Many people think that it would be difficult to manage your time with both gymnastics and diving, but I believe my sister and I are proof that that is not necessarily true. As long as you manage your time between both sports and dedicate 100 percent of yourself to whatever you’re focusing on at the time, you’ll find that you can be a standout in both sports and enjoy your time doing that.”