Personal Reflections From Summer Masters Nationals
by Felix Grossman
As I walked from the office building of the Miwok Aquatics Center to the pool area at the recent Summer Masters National Championships, I was bombarded with a view unlike any I had ever seen in all the years I have been diving. Hills covered with lush, healthy oak trees surrounded the diving pool. And there was a magnificent array of diving facilities in bright white with architectural features of light blue and yellow. While taking in this wonderful setting, the music of Beethoven's 6th Symphony (the "Pastoral") played in my imagination. Thanks to Miranda Maas and her family for making all this possible.
Later during our workout, we were visited by four young deer who casually watched a few dives. I doubt there are any other diving venues that are blessed with such special spectators. Once again, the notes of the Pastoral sang in my head.
And to think, this was just the beginning of an extraordinary weekend. Actually, this wasn't the beginning. It began the night before when I walked into Perry's Restaurant at the Best Western, our host hotel. I expected a nice dinner with a few divers who had arrived a day early. What I got instead was perhaps 15 to 20 early arriving divers, all of whom seemed anxious to reestablish friendships with the other divers who were there. We greeted, we hugged, we laughed, and we met a good many new members of our diving family. We had endless things to talk about but could only scratch the surface. I was particularly delighted to see John Deininger, a great friend with whom I have dived for more than 40 years.
Sitting at our table was Sara, a new novice diver competing in the 50-64 age group. She is a professor of archeology at Hunter College in New York, is from Torino, Italy, and apparently speaks five languages. Bev and I have been all over Italy many times for business and pleasure, including diving. It holds a special place in my heart. Sara was very familiar with Riccioni, where we have held two simply sensational FINA World Masters Diving Championships. This was one of those serendipitous experiences that many divers have had, especially when it comes to sharing our lives with international members of the diving community. Sara may not be a great diver (at least not yet), but her presence added a lot to our weekend. We hope she will continue to join us.
During practice Thursday afternoon, it was obvious we were going to have a terrific meet with lots of participants in a wide range of age groups and some really talented divers, a few who were new to our program. The weather was perfect. Because the weather was so nice, a lot of divers hung around after completing their own workouts.
Thursday evening was our usual "business" meeting for Masters Diving. The place was packed; the food and drink were terrific and delicious. We were all given "goody bags," and this is the first time I have received a goody bag where the bag itself was as good as anything inside. Lisa Mitrani, the organizer of all this stuff and the designer of our meet t-shirt, did an amazing job as she always does. Thanks, Lisa, for all you do. Everybody seemed completely engaged one way or another. One problem - hard as she tried, Lisa Meller, our Chairwoman, had a hard time getting people to quiet down so she could get through the agenda. Such a rambunctious group is a bane (and pain) for those leading meetings, but I loved it. It epitomized the energy and enthusiasm, which to me was a joy to behold. Amazingly, Lisa skillfully managed to get through the business of the day.
Friday the real stuff began, and it was a marvelous weekend of diving. The results speak for themselves; study them on your own if you like. My reflections aren't about diving, they are more about living. Diving is a self-limiting sport. By that I mean that only a limited number of people can train on a board during any one workout. And the facilities and coaching are expensive on a per person basis. You can pack a pool or a track with hundreds of swimmers or runners at the same time, but you can't do that with divers. We refer to ourselves as a "family" and indeed, we are. That aspect is no better displayed than at one of our masters nationals. Does every diver want to win, especially a national championship? You bet. But in what other sport does every competitor coach their competition knowing that the better they coach, the better their competitor will be? This happens all the time at every diving practice and every meet. It happened over and over in Novato. True sportsmanship in action.
For a good part of the weekend, we were privileged to be joined by Lee Michaud, the President of USA Diving. As always happens when folks from the national office actually attend a Masters Nationals, I got the impression that Lee was blown away by what he saw. It was an eye opener, and I think we have a real fan in the office. Time will tell. I got to spend a good bit of time with Lee during the latter part of our Friday night festivities. We talked a little about diving, but then we found some marvelous common ground in the wilderness. He appears to love hiking and backpacking in the mountains just about as much as I do. It was that serendipitous thing I talked about earlier.
Saturday was another gorgeous day in Novato. For the first time in quite a few years, my sons Peter and David were able to attend a meet. I was nervous even though there was no one else in my age group. Winning was not the issue; my motivation was simply the desire to dive well, perhaps even to exceed my own expectations. I did this, especially my 3-meter diving that afternoon, when I put together one of my best lists in several years. It may sound silly, but after diving for 70 years (I started in 1952, my freshman year at Williams College), there is still a personal thrill in doing well in "competition."
This story would not be complete without a special mention of my dear friend Alan Schenk, an Iowa diver I have known for many years. Alan may be just about the sweetest man I know. We often dive in the same flight, although he is a good bit younger. He has always been a cheerleader for me during competition. I appreciate that a great deal. Alan is a pilot and has his own single engine Cessna. He loves peanut M&Ms. And, most importantly for us, over the years he has been the personal chauffeur, driving Tom Hairabedian and more recently Hobie Billingsley to our meets when they were in their 90s. It is virtually impossible to describe how wonderful it was to have these two icons of diving attend our meets during this period of their lives. We have Alan to thank for this.
Because I do not dive platform or synchro, this ends my reflections of this marvelous gathering. My son David and I drove home shortly after Saturday's diving was over. There are likely additional stories about Saturday evening's events and Sunday's diving, including that wonderful synchro event that always has a lot of delightful diving, some of which is spectacular and some of which is often hilarious.
That's all, folks. Thanks to Lisa Meller, Ron Kontura, Mark Timko, Suzanne Maas, George McGann, Maryhelen Bronson, Lisa Mitrani and all the others who made this event come about and run so smoothly and efficiently. They did a super job and deserve our sincere gratitude.
What a sport!! What a family!!!!