David Boudia is an Olympic champion diver. He recently won silver and bronze medals in Rio and the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic games. Diving since he was 11, he qualified for the Olympic trials when he was 15. A talented child gymnast, Boudia clearly remembers the acrobatic joy that diving gave him. “I loved the thrill that came with the free fall and the adrenaline that surged through my body when I flipped through the air,” he says.
Despite all his diving success Boudia is afraid of heights. A “healthy fear,” he shares. And then there’s the matter of the outfit. “My first day of diving I cringed at the thought of wearing briefs like that,“ he shares. “Not only do I have to wear my underwear in front of millions of people, I now have to jump off the equivalent of a three story building while in them.” Although the Olympian is able to manage his fright he still gets a twinge of timidity when stepping onto the diving platform. “I don’t think it will ever go away completely,” he adds.
Boudia who recently released his candid memoir, Greater than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, (Nelson Books), talked to me about overcoming his fears and what winning is all about.
Jeryl Brunner: You are afraid of heights and yet diving is your livelihood and you’re one of the best in the world. How do you manage to dive?
David Boudia: I was terrified because I was 33 feet up in the air going head first at 35 miles an hour towards the water. I think any sane human being would think, yeah, that’s pretty scary.When I was about 15. It came to a point where I was on the platform, thinking to myself, what am I doing now that’s going to get me where I want to be in the future? If I’m not going to overcome this fear, I need to walk back down those stairs and kiss my dreams goodbye. That was something I was ready to do. In order for me to do something to get me to my goals it means I have to take an action step. It means getting over this fear and actually diving off the platform.
Brunner: How do you get over your fear?
Boudia: I do a lot of mental exercises like deep breathing, controlling my heart rate so it’s not bouncing out of my chest. I do visualizations. I close my eyes and constantly see my movements time and time again. So when it comes down to the point when I’m ready to dive, I’ve already done it a thousand times in my head.
Brunner: In your book you very openly talk about your dream of making the Olympic team in 2008 and then hitting rock bottom.
Boudia: Because it was my dream for so long, I put everything that I had in that basket. I was so focused on the destination of making the Olympics. Then when that wasn’t enough, I wanted to win an Olympic medal. It was all about the destination that I thought would bring me joy and happiness. When I reached that pinnacle, it proved to be hollow. I was always longing for something more.
Boudia: Our culture is constantly feeding us that the American dream will satisfy. If we’re healthy, rich and famous we’re going to get everything that we’ve ever wanted. I got a taste of that in 2008. But as I got more recognition it was totally the opposite. I wasn’t fulfilled with the things that I thought should bring me happiness. I was on that pursuit of making everything that I do be about myself.
Nike: Unlimited Pursuit
It’s easy to forget that Laurie Hernandez is just 16 years old, a full three years younger than any other member of the Final Five.
One of the youngest U.S. Olympians this year in Rio, Hernandez has also been one of the most high-profile, winning the gold with the team in the all-around competition, and scoring an individual silver medal for the balance beam.
Exuberant and talkative, Hernandez’s big smile and cheerful demeanor have earned her legions of tween fans – and given her the nickname “the human emoji.” She has even earned a partnership deal with Crest toothpaste – which makes complete sense once you see her smile.
You’ve had an amazing time here at the Olympics. What has been the best part of being part of the Final Five?
It was great to really experience it with these other girls. We were all from different backgrounds, but we came together for a reason. I loved that about it.
have spoken before about your heritage, and how important it was for you to represent Hispanics. What did you mean by that?
We’re a very diverse group this year with gymnastics, and I think that’s amazing. I think that it’s such a great thing for me to represent Hispanics.
When I was a little kid, I don’t remember looking up and seeing so many Hispanic athletes out there. But look at this Olympics. There was Monica Puig, who I think is just awesome!”
So what’s the message of the Final Five?
The message is don’t stop at anything. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, Hispanic. If you want something, just go out and do it.
I hope that little girls – black, white, Hispanic, whatever – can look at our team and find someone to inspire them.
Do you think of yourself fas a role model?
I don’t know. Gosh, I want to be a role model. I want to be able to know that I inspired girls to work hard and go for their dreams, and to never give up. I hope that is the message that people get when they see me. I hope the Final Five has shown that everyone is capable of success if they work hard.
I wasn’t just representing Hispanics; I was representing Team U.S.A. I hope people understand that.
What’s something that would surprise people gymnastics?
I think people don’t know how much work goes into it sometimes. I wish people could watch the hard days that we all go through. I wish they could see the days when it’s just really rough, and that we have to push through it, and still come out with a smile. Then they’d understand.
You’re going on a nationwide tour where you’ll get to see a lot of fans up close. Looking forward to it?
Absolutely! It’s a 36-city tour. I’m just so excited. We’ll go out there and enjoy ourselves while we’re out there. You’ll really see this happiness radiate through all of us!
So how do you handle school while training and touring?
I’ve actually been homeschooled since the third grade. I’ve learned how to fit my schooling in – weekends, evenings. I’m good with the time management. I’m keeping up with my studies.
You’ve got a huge fanbase of tweens. Is that funny to you?
I think it’s hilarious and great! I think it’s because I’m almost in the same age level as them, and I’m doing something that they dreamed of doing. As a little kid, I watched the gymnasts and said, “Wow, mom. I want to go to the Olympics.” So the fact that I’m actually here is mind-blowing to me.