Lauren Okamoto flips and dives her way into CCS

Lauren+Okamoto+flips+and+dives+her+way+into+CCS

Patricia Wei

Encouraged by loud cheering from her teammates and coaches, freshman Lauren Okamoto springs off the diving board and launches herself into the air, performing a series of flips with impeccable form. Moments later, she lands in the water with a graceful splash, prepared to do it all over again. As a member of Lynbrook’s first diving team since 2010, Okamoto’s talent and consistency has helped the Lynbrook Swimming & Diving Team score points at weekly meets. At Central Coast Section (CCS) finals on May 12, she placed tenth in the diving competition.

“CCS was a new experience and I did not expect to place in the top 10,” said Okamoto, “I’m really happy with the accomplishment.”

For six days a week, Okamoto trains at the Stanford Maas Diving Center for around two and a half hours each time. Her practices start with dryland conditioning: cardio and endurance exercises and diving drills on trampolines. She then performs flips and handstands off the edge of the pool, and gradually dives into the water off of platforms of various heights, ranging from one to ten meters.

Diving combines athleticism with grace. At competitions, divers are required to perform a diverse set of dives that includes handstands, twisting and spinning forward and backward. They are judged on their take-off, flight, entry into the water and execution of the dive.

“Diving is a combination of a lot of elements that help athletes become all-around people,” said Oleg Andriyuk, the head coach at Stanford Diving Club. “Some elements are camaraderie, strife for greatness, teamwork, facing fears, determination and dealing with nerves.”

Okamoto, a former competitive swimmer, discovered her passion for diving when she was nine years old, after she decided to join one of her swimming teammates, Remi Edvalson, a member of the USA Diving Junior National Squad. Okamoto started by taking recreational diving classes for beginners and quickly rose through the levels to join Stanford’s Junior Olympic team two years later. Today, Okamoto trains with a team of girls from the Bay Area who share the goal of qualifying for nationals and one day competing at the collegiate or Olympic level.

“When I first saw her, I knew she was talented,” said Andriyuk. “Lauren is the hardest working person on the team. She is very determined and always wants to succeed.”

Okamoto’s hours of practice have produced stellar results. In addition to placing tenth at her first CCS competition, she placed first in one meter, second in platform and third in three meter diving at the Region 10 Diving Championships in April, bringing her one step closer to qualifying for the USA Diving National Championships in August. For three to four times a year, she flies to different states for her competitions.

“It’s a big time commitment,” said Mimi Wong, Okamoto’s mom. “Qualifying for nationals involves a series of meets, many of which are far away. Handling the competition is exciting but difficult at the same time.”

Through diving, Okamoto has learned to perform under pressure and handle her nerves. When she first started diving, Okamoto was nervous to try new dives. Now, whenever she is nervous, she takes a deep breath and counts to three before springing off the diving board.

“I’ve learned to be brave because of diving,” said Okamoto. “When you compete, you only have a few seconds in the air before you land back in the water, so it’s important to trust yourself and not overthink anything.”

Diving has also taught Okamoto to perform confidently under pressure. Divers often make small adjustments in their air if they sense that their dive is going poorly. Okamoto has learned that even if the start of the dive is not perfect, she can use techniques gathered from her coach and hours of practice to improve the ending of her dive. Now, Okamoto serves as a role model who keeps her team calm and composed.

“She keeps our team balanced and she takes care of everybody,” said Andriyuk. “She’s one of the strongest athletes on our team, but she doesn’t brag about it.”

Despite her accomplishments in the sport, Okamoto’s greatest takeaway from diving has been the friendships that she has made. During practices, Okamoto and her teammates, who she has known for three years,  shout words of encouragement when one of them completes a dive. She regards her teammate Edvalson as one of her role models.

“Not only is she very talented, but she is really positive,” said Okamoto. “She may be younger than me, but I look up to her.”

Coming off a strong first season at Lynbrook, Okamoto hopes to continue her success at nationals and place among the country’s top 12 in August. With a strong work ethic, steadfast determination and the support of her teammates, Okamoto strives to pursue diving at the high school level, national level and beyond.