Standing 10 feet above the ground on the high dive, Aaron Russell begins to focus on his next dive.
He walks to the end of the board, takes one hop, and is catapulted into the air. His body spins and twists its way into what appears to be a near perfect dive. When he surfaces, his coach and father Keith Russell gives instructions from poolside on how to make the dive better.
Everyday for four hours, Aaron goes through that same routine with the other members of the BYU men's diving team, as they prepare to help the men's swimming and diving team win its fourth consecutive Mountain West Conference title.
This year holds more meaning for the two-time second-team All-American than previous years. This is his senior season and last chance to be named a first-team All-American.
"It is a goal that I have had ever since I was young. I saw other people that I have admired do it, like my dad, and I want to do the same. I also feel it would be a good pinnacle to the things that I have done in my diving career," said Aaron.
That career began in Mesa, Arizona when Aaron was only five years old. Growing up as the fourth of six kids, Aaron Russell had the all-American childhood. "He is an All-American kid, but a little more extraordinary than most kids," said Aaron's mother Marsha Russell.
"As a little kid he was always very curious," said Marsha. "He liked to climb things, once when he was two he climbed the shelves in the pantry and took the light bulb out of the ceiling." That same curiosity is a big part of the man Aaron is today.
Aaron's parents worked hard to support the family and make sure their children were involved in sports. Aaron and his three brothers all played football and were members of the high school swim team.
Marsha said, "It was kind of hard for him growing up at times because the older boys liked to toughen him up. So they would run him through a gauntlet with pillows, and they would tell him that he was adopted, because he is the only kid in the family with red hair."
Aaron's father and coach, Keith, is the founder of a local diving club in Mesa called the Mesa Desert Divers. Keith saw the potential in his son at an early age and registered him for some community diving classes. After a few years Aaron outgrew that program. Then at the age eight, his father started bringing him to the club's practices.
"He didn't exactly thrive in the recreational league, because those with more talent need to move on from that fun environment and get into a situation where they can train and focus a little more," said Keith.
So Aaron began training with his dad. Keith is one of only two divers from BYU to earn first-team All-American honors. He won the 1968 NCAA three-meter championships and was apart of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team. As the BYU diving coach for the last ten years Keith has coached his divers to five conference titles as well as a sixth and first place finish at the U.S. Diving National titles. In 1999 he was named diving coach for the U.S. squad at the World Student University Games, and has been named the conference Coach of the Year five times.
"Aaron showed some talent, but he was also happy to train with me, Aaron was willing to let me help him," said Keith. Marsha said, "Aaron had the confidence, talent, and patience to listen to his dad."
That is something both parents know can be a hard thing to handle when your father at home is also your coach at school.
The family moved to Orem when Aaron's father was hired as the BYU men's diving coach in 1993. Aaron attended Timpview High School where he was a three-time high school All-American.
After serving a church mission to Lisbon, Portugal, Aaron returned to diving and placed ninth at the U.S. Senior Nationals, and began training for the upcoming season with the Cougars.
Former teammate and friend Viraj Patil is a former national champion from Nashik, India, and works out with Aaron nearly everyday.
Patil said, "Aaron is fun to work with, he's pretty competitive. More than anyone else I have always tried to follow Aaron. He's better than me and I look up to him and try to work up to him. Because he is competitive it pushes me to do better."
Aaron's competitive nature is generally seen in his work ethic. He sticks to a high protein diet and weight lifting during the off-season. During the season he maintains a diet of no carbohydrates and lots of vegetables so that he is lean for competitions.
Talking about Aaron's competitiveness Marsha said, "He is very humble. He doesn't talk about his diving very much, he only says that he thinks he did a good job or could have done better. But he never says how he placed, he only mentions how he did compared to what he thought that he could do."
The list of accomplishments Aaron has recorded is something he could certainly talk about too. He is the current MWC record holder for the 1-M springboard and the former record holder for the 3-M springboard. He is a former MWC champion in both the 1-M and 3-M events, last year he was the MWC runner-up in those same events and also placed third in the platform. His most recent accolade came last summer when he placed seventh at the U.S. Diving Nationals.
Aaron has not just excelled athletically, but scholastically as well. He has received Academic All-MWC, and Academic All-American honors all three of his years at BYU. Those accomplishments have helped him to become the decorated diver he is.
"Diving is a lot like golf, you don't have to be the biggest or the strongest to win," Aaron said. "But you do need to hang in there mentally. The physical aspects seem to add to the mental ability."
Last year Aaron graduated one year early from BYU with a bachelor's degree in Portuguese and is now working on a master's degree also in Portuguese. He hopes to be accepted to law school once he has completed his master's program.
Yet even with all of those accomplishments there is one honor that has continued to elude this athlete who is one of the greatest divers to ever come to BYU--being named first-team All-American is one of Aaron's main goals this season.
"We've talked about his goal to become an All-American, especially this year," said Patil. "Last year he says he had a rough meet at Stanford where the qualifying meet for the NCAA finals was held. He did awesome at the zone meet, he won both the one-meter and three-meter boards, so he is doing great so far this year."
Those who know Aaron best believe he can and will achieve his goal this year. "Over the summertime we went to the U.S. Diving Nationals where Aaron competed against collegiate and post collegiate divers," said Keith. "He finished in the top eight where the first team All-Americans would be. That showed that he can do it, he can reach his goal, he just now has to do it."
Patil said, "I think if he stays healthy and keeps going like he is now, I don't think he'll have a problem making All-American this year."
With so many people supporting Aaron and expecting him to make it this year it places a lot of pressure on him. Not only does he have the pressure to become an All-American, but he is also looked to as the leader for this year's diving team.
"It is probably more difficult for him than it is for anyone else on the team," said Keith in reference to the pressure put on Aaron this year. "I as a father appreciate what he has done, because he has done a wonderful thing for me as a father."
Aaron said, "I hope to make first-team All-American for my dad, I know that it would make him happy and proud."
So what will happen if something happens along the way to prevent Aaron from becoming the first-team All-American he has dreamed of?
"It would be another learning experience," he said. "I am not afraid of not making the team, there are more important things in life than that, but I am working hard to get there."