Montreal 2014, Diving: 1989 earthquake keeps her off board for 20 years


At Masters Worlds, each individual has its own story to tell related to their sport. American diver Sara Gilliland's story is quite special. The 37-year-old practiced diving for one year in 1989 and stopped for 20 years. The very day she decided she would never stand on a board or platform again, Gilliland had just had a terrifying experience: she was on the 3m springboard at her home-town club in California when a huge, tidal wave rose from the swimming pool, steming from the San Francisco-Oakland earthquake of October 17, 1989.

The major earthquake, also known as Loma Prieta earthquake, hit the San Francisco bay area, causing more than 60 deaths. "I was so scared that I stopped diving for 20 years," Gilliland said.

Some time later, Gilliland took up swimming in a club. One day, she saw divers training at her pool and the idea of standing on a board again started rolling.

"The guys were having so much fun diving," she said.

Gilliland tried the 1m springboard first but two weeks later, she was happily diving from the 3m and 10m.

"I totally relearned how to stay upright, I had to figure out how to jump on the board again," she continued.

In Montreal, her first Masters Worlds, Gilliland took second in the women's 1m and 3m springboard (35-39 age group) behind fellow Americans Laura Dauffenbach and Heather Carrano, respectively.

"I'm much happier when I'm diving"

Heather Carrano, who was a gymnast at college, now trains at the Carolina Diving Academy with divers aged 14-18.

"I'm much happier when I'm diving. I feel I can do this forever."

"Diving keeps me better in life. This is something to look forward to every single day."

Former national diver and diving coach Lisa Meller from California is competing in the 40+ age group in Montreal. After spending eight years away from the sport, Meller started training again less than a month ago to compete at her third straight Masters World meet.

"I didn't realise how important it [to practice diving] was until I got out. I want to show mothers and working professionals that they can still stay active and follow their dreams!"

Meller bagged two gold medals from the 1m and 3m springboard and placed second in 10m platform and 3m synchro with Janet Schultze.

Mexico-born Martha Cruz-Lesbres made her trip to Montreal a family affair, travelling from France to compete in the women's diving 50-54 age group. Her brother and husband compete in swimming while one of her sons, who studies in Montreal, cheers enthusiastically from the stands.

A regular competitor at Masters Worlds since the 2006 Championships in Stanford, USA, the mother of five took up the sport thanks to her kids, all divers, at 39!

"It's like starting over again. Your inner ear is really important when you dive. With time, your bearings and sensations change a lot."

Looking at 70 year-olds perform, Cruz-Lesbres was but in admiration: "It's my dream to be like them!"