Aug 27, 2013
Photo Credit on Front Page To Dean Treml of Red Bull Cliff Diving
Red Bull Cliff Diving Series – Malcesine, Italy – July 13, 2013
15th FINA World Championships – Barcelona, Spain
Craig Chval ’15
Imagine a basketball team that had to practice exclusively in the half-court – or a baseball team without an outfield. Simulating the conditions of an actual competition is so crucial to a team’s success the result might be unrecognizable.
For Notre Dame alumna Tara Hyer Tira, that is her reality.
An ’08 graduate, Tira was a standout diver for the Irish, earning All-BIG EAST honors for the 3-meter dive at the 2008 conference meet. Although that season was the last of her collegiate career, little did she know her diving days were far from over.
“I thought I was done diving way long ago,” said Tira. “And then it just continued to stay in my life, and it’s funny how long I have been diving.
“But honestly I love it and it’s one of those things that if you have a passion for it, it continues to grow, and you continue to enjoy doing it.
Since her college days, Tira has discovered high diving, which – as one might guess – involves performing dives from far greater heights than a normal pool diving board. How high? Tira’s competitions this summer involved diving 20 meters (over 65 feet) off a cliff.
If that’s not scary enough, imagine training for such an endeavor without having a way to practice from competition height. Tira trains with a 10-meter platform at Stanford University’s facilities for her 20-meter dives.
“I did all of my training from 10 meters, and that was the highest that they had,” she said. “So I went to the competition, and you have to piece things together since you don’t have 20 meters to practice on. So you do the dive and the takeoff and then you do different things for the landing.
“And then when you go to a spot that’s double the height, you put two and two together and try to keep your fear in check as much as possible. Try to keep calm and just believe in yourself.”
Tira is not alone in her lack of a 20-meter platform to train with. Such heights are difficult to find, and high divers have to get creative with their training.
“You have to actually visualize yourself doing the dive successfully. And that’s actually a big method of training,” she described. “Because there really aren’t that many places you can train, and your body can only take so much. You can’t constantly be running up to 70 feet and diving off. It’s too much on your body. You have to really know exactly what you’re going to be doing and really take advantage of every dive.”
Tira’s journey from the 3-meter dive in college to 20 meters now has been anything but straightforward. In fact, it began at SeaWorld in San Antonio, of all places.
“Senior year, second semester, I got a call from SeaWorld, and they said, ‘Do you want to do a diving show for the summer?'” she recalled. “‘There’s going to be dolphins and whales in it. Would you be interested?’
“So I did it for the summer, and it was absolutely the coolest job ever. It was like I was at the playground all the time. I was in my comfort zone at the pool, swimming all day, diving with the dolphins and the whales and performing in shows, which was pretty awesome.”
Tira ended up working at SeaWorld for five years, becoming accustomed to higher dives than she experienced in college. Although the 12-meter jump was not quite at the height of 20-meter competitions, it led her down the path to search for new diving opportunities.
“With my team at Sea World, we’d go on our own, exploring different areas and places to dive from higher,” she said. “And there’s not that many places around, but we would go to some parks, and make sure everything was safe.
“I started getting footage of it and made a demo video and put it together and put it out there. And then I got invited to my first-ever high diving competition, which was in Mexico. And that was off of 20 meters.”
Since that competition in Las Chiapas in 2010, Tira continued to train and compete until her performances earned her a spot at the 2013 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Malcesine, Italy. Although the tour has been an annual fixture since 2009, this summer marked the first time women dove in the event.
Continuing her eventful summer, Tira also competed in the FINA World Championships just a few weeks later. Although high diving is not yet a part of the Olympics, the competition was an Olympic qualifier for other aquatic sports, putting Tira in the company of world-class athletes.
“It was the first time that high diving was ever in at a World Cup event,” she said. “I honestly think it’s definitely going to be in the Olympics. I think it could be the next event to partake in the Olympics, which is pretty cool. Definitely taking that step and being in the World Cup was the first big step, and that’s what had to happen.
“There haven’t been a lot of sports that haven’t been to the World Cup, and cliff diving was one of them, so it’s only growing and growing. It’s seeming to go really well and the public is really enjoying it and we pulled in a lot of spectators at the World Cup, so hopefully it will just continue to grow.”
Having attended two groundbreaking events in the same month, Tira is certainly at the forefront of the sport’s expansion. The fact that she is only five years removed from competing off a 3-meter springboard in college makes it all the more remarkable.
She said she became drawn to cliff diving “just because it was something different because I’d been diving off a springboard for all this time up until college and then through college. I love doing that, but I just wanted something new and different – and the performance world and the show world opened up, which was cool. And cliff diving, which was a whole new world for me, opened up and just made it a more new and exciting thing.”
Besides the obvious height difference, cliff diving’s new world created a number of adjustments for Tira to make. Platforms instead of springboards, and the requirement to land on your feet create more problems than “just” the extra 17 meters.
“When you’re cliff diving, you have to land on your feet,” she explained. “With other diving, you always see people doing pretty things and then taking it to their heads. Cliff diving – it’s too high – the impact would be too much on your head, your shoulders and your neck, so you take everything to your feet, which is really different. It’s really cool to see something a little bit different. When you’re not expecting it, you’re looking around like, ‘Oh, they’re going to land on their heads. Oh wait, they turned around and now they landed on their feet.’ So it’s a cool, different effect.”
Divers must also deal with weather conditions that are nonexistent in an indoor pool. If the weather is too bad, competitions can be postponed, but sometimes the competitors simply have to jump with the wind.
“You just have to dive through it,” she said. “You just have to keep your composure and even though it’s windy at the end of the platform, you have to finish strong and just do all the right motions because it’s what you’ve been practicing and you know you know how to do it.
“Sometimes weather and a little bit of wind or whatnot can kind of get to your head, but if you just own it and control what you know how to do and what you’ve been practicing, usually it shouldn’t affect you.”
Cliff diving also necessitates safety precautions that might not be as necessary in a pool. Competition officials check the depth of the water and ensure there aren’t dangerous protrusions in the cliff. Additionally, three safety scuba divers have to make sure the divers are OK after the jump. With all the safety precautions, Tira said she has never had a serious scare.
“I’ve definitely uncomfortably hit the water a few times, and that’s never fun,” she described. “We call it smacking, and I’ve smacked the water a number of times. Usually you learn from them, which is a good thing, but you can’t ever really escape smacking. When you’re learning new dives a lot of times, your body is just going to do one thing and hit the water in that way, and it kills.
“As for injuring myself, luckily I’ve never done anything worse than that. I’ve smacked the water one or two times and it hurt really bad, but you usually bounce up and quickly heal from that.”
With all her training and competing, Tira, who has a graphic design degree, manages to find time to complete freelance design projects and teach yoga. She also still keeps up with the Irish women’s swimming and diving team and plans to attend the Notre Dame-Stanford football game in Palo Alto this year.
“They’re still continuing to rock it out in the Big East,” she said of the swimming and diving team, who now enters the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2013-14 season. “They’ve won championship after championship, which is awesome. The diving team is growing and it’s doing really, really well. Caiming Xie, who was my coach in college, is still there and continuing to develop the team and doing really well and being really successful. So it’s been awesome.”
It seems incredible that someone could hold together so many tasks while being a trailblazing world-class athlete. But the way Tira pieces together her diving routine, it’s hard to expect anything less.