In the year she celebrated her 45th birthday, Ginger Huber most probably ended a fine high diving career of exceptional longevity. The American last competed in the FINA World Cup in Zhaoqing (CHN) at the end of May 2019, following two legs of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series and at the time looking forward to more big events to come. But then came a severe back injury. She was unable to take part in the FINA World Championships in Gwangju (KOR) in July and had to miss the rest of the Red Bull circuit. And then, in early 2020, came the coronavirus pandemic, stopping all sporting activity worldwide. “Perhaps a sign it’s time to retire,” Huber admitted to our magazine, still enduring the effects of confinement in Florida, where she lives.
Huber, born on December 6, 1974, has been a constant presence in FINA events since high diving became part of the federation’s programme in 2013. She was silver medallist in the first two events under FINA’s umbrella, the World Championships in 2013 in Barcelona (ESP) and the inaugural edition of the World Cup, in 2014, in Kazan (RUS). She was sixth at both the 2015 World Cup in Cozumel (MEX) and the 2015 Kazan World Championships. In the following three editions of the World Cup, all in Abu Dhabi, she was respectively third in 2016, fourth in 2017 and fifth in 2018. In her last appearance at the World Championships, in Budapest 2017, she was ninth (the same placing as in 2019 in the World Cup in China).
On the Red Bull Circuit Huber was invited to take part in the first women’s competition in 2013. The experience was successful – she was second in Malcesine (ITA), the sole event of the season. She finished fourth in the series in 2014, capturing two bronze medals, in Norway and Mexico, and was overall runner-up in 2015, taking a silver medal in Italy. She was then sixth in 2016 (highlight: second in Japan), fourth in 2017 (silver in Ireland) and sixth in 2018. Last year, she took part in only the first two events of the series, with sixth places in the Philippines and Ireland.
Diving show debut
Huber started diving in the mid-1990s and after graduating from university (in 1997) she was contacted by an entertainment company that operated diving shows. She began by performing regular dives, but with a strong desire to learn and deep passion for all forms of diving, she began to observe some of the veteran show divers and learned from them precious skills and techniques. Gradually, she progressed from the 10m platform to higher boards and became in time one of the top athletes on the high diving world circuit.
After 25 years of professional diving, her strong and determined mind is still pushing her to the top of the platform, but the body starts to show signs of fatigue. Like men’s former world champion Orlando Duque (COL), who also retired in 2019 at 45, she is often cited as an example of perseverance and longevity by all those competing with her. Ginger Huber is a role model and her career will certainly provide additional inspiration to all women attracted by high diving.
Is it official? Are you retired from sport?
I do not know if I will ever officially retire. My mind will not let me. My body tells a different story, however, but my heart and soul will always be jumping off of high places.
Your last official competitions were the Irish leg of the Red Bull Series and the FINA World Cup, both in May. After that, you missed the World Championships in Gwangju. Was this already a consequence of that retirement, or a cause for it?
Just a month before World Championships, I herniated a disc in my back. The herniation also pinched a nerve down my leg, which prevented me from being able to jump. I went to Gwangju in hopes that the nerve would become less aggravated and that maybe there was a slight chance I would be able to dive. I was not able to dive, but I was able to be there and support my fellow divers.
How difficult was it to accept that you couldn’t finally compete at the Worlds in Korea?
As an athlete, it is hard to sit on the sidelines with an injury. But throughout the years, I have learned that when an injury does happen, the best thing to do is to stay positive. If I let regret and frustration build up in my mind, then it usually causes me to heal at a slower pace.
All my memories are good
You are both a fantastic athlete and human being. What has this sport brought to you, precisely as an athlete and as a person?
High diving has brought me hope in people. It is unlike most other sports in that the majority of the other high divers generally care about the well-being of their fellow competitors. We are competitive with one another, but we all want each other to be successful, and we all love the sport intensely. And the hope has further expanded with how much the sport has grown and the support that the world is starting to give high diving.
Time to recall nice moments of this long career: can you tell us three nice memories?
Honestly, all my memories of high diving are good. Even if I was injured or I missed the podium by less than a point, I reflect on each moment as a learning experience. But I will give you three that bring a huge smile to my face: Number 1: My Mom watching me dive in Polignano a Mare, Italy, in 2018. Number 2: Successfully executing my front triple on my second attempt of the dive (also in Polignano). Number 3: Team USA sweeping the podium at the World Cup in Kazan 2014 (Rachelle Simpson 1st, Ginger Huber 2nd, Cesilie Carlton 3rd).
And perhaps some less happy?
Less happy memory for me was when I injured my knee in Chile during practice. I was not able to compete. The conditions in Chile were SO cold and I was so impressed by how strong all the divers remained in those conditions. But I wanted to be up on the cliffs with them and supporting them from there, and not from below.
Female athletes need more support
You have been, you are, an example for all divers. You are also a big promoter of high diving in the Olympics. There is one condition missing: the lack of girls still practising the sport. What can be done?
Very few federations provide adequate support for females to commit to training and competing as their means to support themselves. There are many more female high divers in the world than most people have seen in Red Bull or competing in FINA events. The problem is they are working in a show that does not allow them to either leave work to compete or working is a bit more reliable and less risky than going to competitions. Federations need to figure a way to help support more women athletes, and I also think that more women will be enticed to compete if they see the Olympic Rings on the horizon.
Since the moment you decided to retire, until the COVID-19 situation, how was your life going?
For the last year, I have been coaching diving and doing consulting work for an entertainment company. My life prior to all of this was very good, with plans to compete in two Red Bull competitions in 2020 and possibly represent Team USA at the World Cup [initially scheduled for July 2020 in Kazan].
Coming to the present moment, how did you personally perceive this pandemic? It was firstly something far away (in China) and then it evolved to the entire world. Did you ever imagine it would take these proportions?
As I have friends who live throughout the entire world, I would contact them and hear about how Covid-19 was affecting their city/country. Once it spread into Europe I knew it was only a matter of time before it came to the USA.
Not sleeping well at night
What were the effects of these measures in your life?
The effects are that I will not train or compete this year as the competitions are all cancelled. Perhaps this is the world giving me a sign that it is time to retire (smiling).
After all this is over, if you have to keep just one moment/memory from this period, what would it be?
I will remember forever how the entire world worked together to fight this virus. It is amazing how people can work together in times of need. But I will also remember the time that I was able to spend with my husband. He travels a lot and, fortunately for me, he was not stranded somewhere away from home and we were able to be together during this time.
The mental part of it is also very important. Did you feel some kind of anxiety, fear of the unknown? What strategies do you have to help you?
I did realise that I was not sleeping well at night. So, there must have been some underlying anxiety in me about what was happening in the world. But my husband knows me better then I know myself and he got me a puppy. I LOVE dogs! And the puppy was a breath of fresh air for me. Not to mention he occupies the majority of my day, so he is a very good distraction from the pandemic.
On a more philosophical note, do you think this crisis will somehow change the world? Will we be living in a different rhythm? Or will everything be as normal as before?
I think the world will have a different rhythm for quite some time. People are more aware of hygiene and personal space and it will be a slow pace if we ever get back to how things were prior to 2020.
You, concretely, what are your future plans?
My plans for the future are to stay involved with high diving. I would like to coach and be involved in the training camps. I would also love to still do some diving! A few of the male high divers always talk about organising a masters high diving event (which would be from slightly lower heights) and I would love to take part in that.
*This article can be found in the FINA Magazine. To access the online version of the magazine (2020/3) click here