The diving technique is very different when you are up there (on the platform) and it’s a lot more exciting.
THOUSANDS of young athletes are inspired to take up sport after watching the feats of their heroes; not so many receive a personal invitation to follow in their footsteps.
Bendigo diver Megan George was one of the lucky few who can claim to have been directly encouraged to throw herself into the deep end - quite literally - by an Olympic champion.
The 17-year-old credits 2004 Athens platform gold medallist Chantelle Newbery, originally from Castlemaine, for introducing her to the aerial aquatic sport.
Their encounter occurred when the superstar returned to her home region for a visit about six years ago and took the time to call in on her former gymnastics coach, John Palmer.
“I was doing Mr Palmer’s gym at the time and Chantelle came into one of his classes and told us we should consider going to the Bendigo diving club for a try day,” says Megan, who even got the chance to wear Newbery’s precious gold medal during their meeting.
“So I went along just for fun with a group of my friends... and then just kept going.”
The agile teenager’s tumbling skills soon translated to the pool and she discovered she loved leaping off the springboard and platform into the pool below.
Since that first tentative session, she has gone on to win medals at state diving events and has represented Victoria at national age and school-based competitions.
Megan has travelled to Adelaide, Sydney and Perth to compete and will again be in action this July, when she contests the 17-19 years springboard and platform events at the School Sport Australia national diving championships in Melbourne.
Newbery, who became national talent identification co-ordinator after retiring, is one of several elite international divers who Megan has befriended via Facebook.
Others include Beijing Olympic champion Matthew Mitcham, Commonwealth gold medallist Melissa Wu, and British boy wonder Tom Daley, who won bronze at the London games after taking our the 10m platform world title in 2009 at the age of just 13.
Megan is also the proud owner of a shirt worn by Daley and signed by the Great Britain Olympic diving team, which she bid successfully for at auction while volunteering at the world junior diving championships in Adelaide in 2012.
Not that she will tell you stories like that about herself - it’s left up to mum Judy and dad Andrew to explain that Megan’s involvement in her sport spans more than just competing.
She qualified this year as a level two diving judge and can officiate at state-level meets, and has also completed her level one coaching certificate.
Her father is also a level two judge and has officiated at state titles and also attended nationals to “shadow judge, where his scored did not count but were critiqued and used for his further training and development.
Mrs George says she and Andrew are very proud of their active, outgoing daughter who has spent time on netball, basketball and volleyball courts, and swam and did gymnastics before focusing on her diving career.
“She is always very busy - and doesn’t sleep much,” she quipped. “She also did cheerleading for a while and was a junior cheerleader for the Bendigo Braves.”
Megan started out at the Bendigo diving club but more recently has travelled to Melbourne, where she is coached by Monica Fly at MelAm Divers.
During peak competition times, there can be three or more after-school trips to the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Albert Park every week, plus another on Sundays.
Megan is in year 11 at Bendigo Senior Secondary College, where she is part of the school’s specialist sport program, allowing her to tailor her studies around her sporting commitments.
Still, there are times when she can be found completing her homework in the car or on the train during the journey to and from training.
But the effort has proven to be well worthwhile.
Megan has been to four Australian championships and is ranked in the top 12 divers her age in the country.
She has won several state medals, including gold with her partner in the synchro event at last year’s state titles and individual bronze at the School Sport Victoria diving titles in April.
She qualified for her most recent state team by finishing third in her age group at the School Sport Victoria selection trials on May 10.
She will be joined in Team Vic by fellow Bendigonian Abby Rowley, from Girton Grammar School, who is the Australian Diver of the Year in the 12-13 year age group.
Megan enjoys leaping off the 1m and 3m springboards, as well as the 5m, 7m and 10m platforms, performing incredible twists and turns on her way down.
Her most technical dive is a backward one-and-a-half somersault with one-and-a-half twists.
But her favourite discipline is platform diving - and the higher, it seems, the better.
Megan happily climbed the poppet head in Rosalind Park to have her photo taken for the Bendigo Advertiser.
The image shows her towering above the city, enjoying views like those she would get from the diving platform if she stopped to take them in.
“I like how you can do different moves from the platform,” she says. “The diving technique is very different when you are up there and it’s a lot more exciting.”
Megan performs one particular dive where she first takes up position in a perfect handstand, balancing on the edge of the 10m platform before kicking herself off into her other manoeuvres.
She appears unfazed by the feat, though her parents say it can be nerve-racking to watch.
“I really don’t know how she does it,” says her mum.
“Yes, that does freak me out a bit,” admits dad.
But according to Megan, it’s all part of the attraction of the sport.
The one thing about diving, she says, is it never gets boring because there are always new dives to learn and new challenges to overcome.