Nov. 12, 2004
By Bo Rottenborn
After nine years of swimming, Meghan Perry-Eaton made the switch to diving at the age of 13 for one simple reason: “I am more of a free and adventurous person, so diving appealed to me more than just swimming back and forth in a lane all the time. I found that I love to just flail around in the air.”
Her “flailing” – which head diving coach Caiming Xie describes with words like “power” and “beauty” – has made Perry-Eaton, now a fifth-year senior pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering after earning a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering in May, the most accomplished diver in Irish history.
The ups and downs of the career of this multiple-time All-American are befitting of someone who is adventurous, as her journey – which culminated in a third-place finish in one-meter competition at last spring’s NCAA Championships – has been anything but ordinary.
Upon coming to Notre Dame, Perry-Eaton had already had an outstanding diving career under the tutelage of Tampa-area mentor Joe Greenwell. She was focused, however, on earning a spot on the United States diving contingent that would compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics. That dream derailed during fall break of her freshman year, when she sustained a back injury while doing dry-land workouts at her home pool in Florida.
“I couldn’t do anything,” says Perry-Eaton. “It was painful to just stand up or try to sleep at night. It was terrible, and it was really hard mentally.”
That excruciating injury would serve as a crucible for the Brandon, Fla., native, who completed an arduous rehabilitation process and returned to diving her sophomore year.
In the three years since then, Perry-Eaton has established herself as the top diver in Irish history. She currently holds all four school records and has been named the BIG EAST Championships Most Outstanding Diver in each of the last two years. Perry-Eaton won the conference title in one-meter diving in 2003 to become the first non-University of Miami diver since 1996 to claim a BIG EAST diving championship. Last spring, she completed a sweep of both boards, winning by more than 40 points in each competition.
Her victories at the BIG EAST meet are particularly special to Perry-Eaton: “My older sister graduated from Miami in 2001, and I am friends with most of their divers, so it is a big thing for me to beat them. I sort of feel like I have to win against them.”
As a junior, Perry-Eaton was named honorable mention All-America for her one-meter performance that was good enough for ninth place. That set the stage for last spring’s heroics, when Perry-Eaton was in contention for the national championship before eventually taking third place with a score of 303.90 points, just 3.30 behind the champion. Despite the fact that it was Notre Dame’s best-ever result in any event in the meet, Perry-Eaton was not satisfied.
“I dove pretty well, but so did a lot of others,” says Perry-Eaton of the 2004 NCAAs. “When you are at that level, it just comes down to judging, and it may have hurt me that most of the judges hadn’t seen me dive all year. You can’t really look down on third place, but I felt like I trained better and dove better than that.”
Because of her rookie-year injury, Perry-Eaton was granted another year of eligibility, giving another chance before pursuing a career in aerospace engineering. Perry-Eaton, who qualified for last summer’s Olympic Diving Trials but missed them due to a broken foot, hopes to take advantage of that opportunity by finishing in the top three off both boards at the 2005 NCAAs. She is particularly motivated to do well in three-meter action, after failing to place better than 20th in the national meet thus far.
The fact that the injury that once “ruined” her has now produced this chance is not lost on Perry-Eaton, who has relished her adventure.
“I really don’t think that I’d change getting injured. It has turned out to be such an opportunity in every aspect. It has given me a fifth year in school, which means I am earning a master’s degree.”
“I was at the lowest possible low when I was a freshman, and it is so difficult to get back to this level. But those struggles have helped me in so many ways, from in the classroom to dealing with the challenges of diving. I don’t think I’d change it at all.”