Anyone in need of some inspiration before conference starts? On this day last year, Gator Great and UF diver, Kahlia Warner posted this reflective piece. 2 months later, she retired as a 3x All-American, 2x SEC Champion and SEC Diver of the Year.
I was an athlete striving for greatness, just like everyone else.
The Olympics was the ultimate goal, just like everyone else.
I woke up early, and I went to bed late, just like everyone else.
It’s safe to say that my life has been one big continuous grind… just like everyone else.
The sport of diving stole my heart at the age of twelve. One session turned into five, and five turned into 10. I progressed quickly, and before I knew it I was medaling at nationals, and representing my country. At this point in my life, I had no worries in the world. But in 2011, things started to change. There wasn’t a “shoe-in” to win anymore. Everyone was improving and it became anyone’s game. I kept working hard, but at the same time I kept being told by coaches that I wasn’t good enough to continue. It got to the point where medaling at nationals just didn’t cut it. Of course, I tried blocking the negativity out but eventually the harsh words just got to me, my diving began to suffer and so did my self-confidence.
I think anyone who knows me well will agree that I almost always got the raw end of the deal in diving. I’d always miss out on getting the score, or making the team by the smallest of margins. But I kept pushing because I felt like I was in too deep. I couldn’t give up yet because I hadn’t achieved what I wanted. Diving training had become a concrete part of my day, so I told myself that I was at the point of no return. I lasted a little while longer, but the situation got the better of me. Even though I had a great support system, I surrendered to the brutal politics of the diving world. I want to say that I missed it, but honestly, I didn’t. I didn’t leave the sport on particularly good terms, but I became a much happier person in general and everyone could see it.
My retirement only lasted a few weeks though as the idea of possibly moving to America came about. I’ve always been passionate about travelling, and have always valued experiences over tangible items, so it only seemed right for me to give competing at a collegiate level a chance. I was completing my final year of school at the time, and university was just around the corner so I had to apply instantly. I added diving videos to my YouTube profile, published it, and waited a week. The response I got was overwhelming. I had never felt so wanted in the sport, and the confidence I gained was indescribable. After much deliberation, I decided on the University of Florida. There were a number of reasons as to why I chose Florida, but the biggest and most important was my coach. Donnie Craine was warm and welcoming. That was something I wasn’t used to having in a coach, but I knew I needed it if I wanted to love the sport again, and pick up where I left off.
Well here I am now, four years later! I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of my time at UF, but I do need to mention the loss of Donnie Craine. A tragic accident took him away, and while it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with, it only made me more determined to finish stronger. I’ve had the time of my life at this school. I’ve met amazing people, and I’ve achieved things that I never thought I would. I’m extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow, thrive in a new environment, and learn how to love my sport again. Competing at the collegiate level made me realize that attending the Olympic Games didn’t have to be my happy ending in the sport of diving. I didn’t have to finish up “just like everyone else”. I won dual meets, was named SEC Diver of The Week, became an All-American, and medaled at SECs. Sure, that doesn’t mean a lot to other people, but to me, it’s everything. Those achievements are what made my hard work worth it.
Basically what I’m trying to say is; you can always overcome adversity. And if there’s one thing you take from this article, I want it to be that YOU are the creator of your own happy ending. We all know nothing is for certain in sport, but you are one hundred percent in control of how your career ends (unless injury already beat you to the punch). When it comes time to throw in the towel, do it, but don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re giving up, or wasting talent. If you feel that you have gained everything that you possibly can from your sport, move on. Do it on your own terms, and you’ll never look back. I am so proud to be in that exact position as the end of my collegiate diving career draws closer. I have made life-long friends, represented my country, and traveled the world. I’ve learnt an abundance of valuable life lessons, but above all, I’ve learnt how precious life is in general. My time at UF helped me realise that I need to take every single opportunity that comes my way. This is enough for me. In one month, I will leave the sport of diving with absolutely no regrets, so thank you to everyone who helped me get to this point. Bring on SEC’s, NCAA’s, and most importantly… GO GATORS!
Special thanks to my parents for making everything possible, Max Swain for introducing me to the sport, Donnie Craine for bringing me to UF, Ryan for being my biggest fan, my UF teammates for being my family, Dale Schultz for pushing me through the finish line, the entire Victorian Diving gang for being my best friends, Matt Adamson for being the one coach who never doubted my ability, and last but not least, Belle, Hannah, and Anna for being my absolute rocks.