By Dan Plouffe
Being a diving coach requires an impeccable attention to detail, constantly searching for the athletes’ slightest imperfections to correct in order to earn the fraction of a point that might make a difference. It’s a wonder then that a provincial team coach and former national-level diver like Brennan Villemaire can’t even pull off a proper handshake at the end of the day.
Showing thanks and shaking hands has been a tradition since the birth of the Ottawa National Diving Club 10 years ago, but it’s evolved into something more complicated, with each athlete now owning their personalized secret greeting.
“Well, some kids want their own handshake, so we come up with something different for each of them,” explains club founder Kathleen Murphy, who’s passed head coaching duties onto her son, Villemaire. “And sometimes there’s a different handshake for each coach. It’s unbelievable actually.”
Oh, and don’t you dare mess it up, coach.
“They’ll stand there until you do it right,” notes Murphy, whose pupils soak up that moment where the instructor roles are reversed. “If you get it wrong, you gotta start again.”
It’s a small gesture, but one that reflects the tight family feel developed over the past decade at Ottawa National, which marked the anniversary as it hosted the Dive Ontario Spring Provincials/Diving Canada’s Dresden Trials from Feb. 28-Mar. 4 at Nepean Sportsplex.
“And it just always ends the day on a good note,” adds Murphy. “No matter how the day’s gone, you’ve got to do something goofy.”
Villemaire says hosting the event was the perfect way to mark 10 years. The teamwork of parents and volunteers to put on the show was exceptional as well, he indicates.
“I think it speaks volumes to where we’ve come from,” highlights Villemaire, whose sister Mary is also a club coach. “To start with two divers and then try to get as many kids as possible into the program, and to create what we have today and turn it into a family, and we can all of a sudden host a big competition like this with over 160 divers from across the country – it’s fantastic.”
ONDC divers celebrated the occasion in style, with many earning national championships qualifying scores and medals in their age group competitions.
“My team is amazing,” underlines Kathryn Grant, the club’s most experienced diver who’s represented Canada internationally. “I’m so proud of all of them.”
Grant earned a bronze medal in the open women’s 3-metre competition and collected national qualifying scores in her age 14-15 category.
Clubmates Catherine Boyer and Audree Howes also earned their tickets to nationals as they competed side-by-side in the age 12-13 event.
“We still support each other, but it’s fun to push each other to our limits,” double-silver medallist Boyer says of the relationship with her sometimes-rival. “It’s great because you never need to train alone. You can just enjoy it and have fun with your friend and teammate.”
A pair of ONDC athletes also hit the national mark at the age 10-11 level – Charlee-May Hunt and Emmanuelle Roberge-Le.
“This gives you a good indicator of where you sit amongst everyone in the country – it’s all the same kids and all the same judges as nationals,” signals Villemaire, who will take a group of Team Ontario/Ottawa National divers to Cuba in May for an outdoor competition in advance of the summertime nationals. “I think we’re right where we need to be right now.”
The most decorated local athlete at the home event was Kate Miller, who is also based out of the Sportsplex with the Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club.
The Grade 7 St. Mark Catholic High School student won her 1 m and 3 m competitions in the age 12-13 class, and added a silver for platform.
“I’m really happy with the way I performed,” states Miller, who felt she did benefit from home pool advantage (she’s accustomed to the Sportsplex’s aging springboards, while many of her counterparts are used to bouncing more) and the extra family and friends behind her at the rare local event.
“It’s great to know they’re cheering for me and really want me to do well,” she adds.
Age 14-15 competitor Victor Hearn also booked his ticket to nationals, while fellow Nepean-Ottawa product Henry McKay will likely travel further to Germany for the Diving Canada-supported trip to the Dresden International competition.
Though the team was not yet officially announced at press time, expect to see a repeat Dresden appearance offered to McKay, who recorded the best Canadian finish at last year’s event with his 7th-place showing.
Now based at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario centre in Toronto, the Nepean-Ottawa product returned home to find his perennial place on the podium, winning the age 16-17 3 m and coming 3rd in the 1 m.