Gymnast Turned Diver

Senior diver Ava Jackman.

Starting gymnastics at age three and losing interest around age 14 caused one girl to try ariel skiing, cheerleading and diving, falling in love with diving and sticking with it through thick and thin.

Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., but now an Alpine, Utah native, third of four children, exercise science major, 5-foot-7 BYU senior diver Ava Jackman started diving with long-time BYU diving coach Keith Russell over seven years ago and has never looked back.

Jackman originally started out in gymnastics when she was very young because her older sister was already enrolled in gymnastics.

“With any sport, gymnastics taught me what commitment and dedication was,” said Jackman. “I developed a real passion for gymnastics when I was at a pretty young age. Although I didn’t always want to go to practice, my parents were very encouraging and pushed me to do the best I could.”

After about 11 years in gymnastics, Jackman lost the passion she once felt for the sport and her mom looked into other sports that might transfer her abilities.

“When I moved to Utah, I didn’t really struggle with gymnastics, but I didn’t feel the same fire or passion as I had before,” said Jackman. “When this happened, my mom looked at anything that had to do with gymnastics. I tried ariel skiing up in Park City for a couple days, I tried cheer for a little while and I didn’t love it and then I tried diving.”

Jackman’s mother, Jeni, brought her down to see Keith after a BYU practice one day. As he took a look at her skills, he was impressed by her strong lines.

“He told me that he would love to train her,” said Jeni. “He’s very personable, but has very strong ideas of work ethic and what they’re doing in the athletic program at BYU. He let us know that he was focused on developing good people and good character, not just good diving. That kind of an attitude from a coach gave us a lot of confidence as parents.”

Out of all of the things that she tried, Jackman liked Russell as a coach and enjoyed the diving environment.

“It was actually really refreshing to have a coach that was passionate about diving,” said Jackman about Russell. “He’s always been so patient with me and has always believed in me.”

Russell describes his experience with coaching Jackman to be an exciting journey.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience to see someone start from scratch and do the things she has done,” said Russell. “I hope she and all those who know her can see that and appreciate what she has done.”

Jackman dove for Russell’s club team all through high school and also was the diving team at Lone Peak High School.

“I was the only one on my high school diving team,” Jackman said. “State was competitive in high school, but my club diving is where I really improved. I did the Junior Olympic program in club and that was very competitive.”

Since Jackman was young, she always wanted to play a sport in college and expected it to be gymnastics when she was younger. While growing up, she didn’t always think it was possible to be a collegiate athlete, but her mother always felt that she would.

“I already knew how competitive she was,” said Jeni. “She was a very competitive gymnast and took state in Arizona when she was 11 or 12. And I knew she was going to accomplish great things.”

“After a few years of diving with Keith I hoped that he would let me dive with him here at BYU,” she said. “My parents always wanted me to go here to BYU because they both graduated from here and my dad golfed here. I always expected I would come here, but I was very excited when Keith gave me the opportunity to come here and dive.”

Jackman describes her senior year at Lone Peak High School as the year that gave her a boost of confidence in getting into BYU diving.

“I got my confidence in diving when I won state my senior year,” said Jackman. “I guess that was when I realized that I had potential with diving.”

Keeping with the same coach she had her entire diving career, Jackman was recruited by Russell to be on the BYU diving squad starting in 2006.

“I came on a recruiting trip here with my parents and this was the only place I came,” said Jackman. “I don’t think any other school knew who I was. Diving-wise, Keith was the only one that saw my potential and let me come.”

Russell describes seeing Jackman’s collegiate potential in her sophomore or junior year of diving and was happy to continue coaching her at BYU.

“She’s a behind-the-scenes type of diver who doesn’t promote herself and is always doing the work she is asked to do,” said Russell. “She’s the kind of athlete that you want on your team. You just tell her what you want and she goes for it. Because she has a lot of talent and puts in a lot of effort, it’s been a great experience working with her over the years.”

“I would describe Ava as ‘quietly determined’,” said Jeni. “She doesn’t talk about her achievements at all. She has this determination that is down deep inside and doesn’t show outwardly.”

Jackman was grateful to be recruited by Russell and wanted to give her all to the BYU diving program.

“When I came into college I had a positive attitude and was ready to improve and do the best that I could,” she said.

Jackman succeeded in diving and her coaches, teammates and others readily saw it.

“Ava is a hard worker and when she sets her mind to something, she works really hard to achieve that goal,” said BYU teammate Tawni Jones. “We have had a lot of fun together and have become best friends in and out of the pool.”

Coach Russell is very glad that he went with his instincts and recruited Jackman, who was named Mountain West Conference Co-Diver of the Year for her diving performance throughout her junior year and for winning the 1-meter board at MWC Championships.

“As for my accomplishments at BYU, last season sticks out to me,” said Jackman. “Winning the Co-Diver of the Year at conference championships was a real honor.”

She also describes her college experience being complete with diving on the side.

“I can’t even imagine going to college without diving,” said Jackman, “it wouldn’t have been the same. The people I have met, the friends I have made, all the opportunities I have been exposed to – I just couldn’t imagine it without diving.”

As the 2009-10 diving season is coming to a close in March, Jackman reflects on the past four years being ones she will greatly miss.

“Being around people that you’re so close to every day, twice a day, is what I’ll miss the most,” she said. “You just get so close to those people and you really grow to love them. Especially this year, we have a pretty big diving team and we all get along really well. I am really going to miss the team.”

Jackman won’t be the only one missing the diving team. Russell, Jones and Jeni explain how they will miss having her on the BYU dive team.

“I will greatly miss having Ava on my team,” said Russell. “I will miss never having to question that she is going to be loyal and willing at what I have always tried to accomplish as a coach. A person like that will always be important to me.”

“I’ll miss seeing her twice a day,” said Jones. “Whenever we have a day off, or a practice off and I won’t see her for a whole 24 or 48 hours, we come back and it’s as if it’s been forever. She is one of my best friends, so I’ll still see her, but I will miss working out with her twice daily.”

“Ava being on the BYU diving team has meant the world to us as parents,” said Jeni. “The sense that she is a part of something bigger than herself has been something so admirable. I remember Keith having a meal with us on our recruiting trip and telling us that we are representatives of Mormonism. Ava has taken that to heart and knows that she is the face of the church. It makes me happy that she has been able to represent our faith like that.”

While finishing up her classes for her degree in exercise science, Jackman has mixed feelings of being at BYU and not diving.

“It’s been a good run,” she said. “I will be able to sleep in – no more getting up to dive at 7 a.m. But there are mixed feelings. It is going to be sad and there are going to be a lot of things I am going to miss, but at the same time I feel like there will be time for other things, other opportunities. One door closes and another one opens. I am excited to try new things and have a change – a big change.”

After finishing diving at BYU, Jackman plans on graduating and figuring out what she wants to do with her degree. She may go to grad school later and hopes to get married and start a family down the road.

While she loves the beautiful mountains and the great people in Utah, she would love to end up in warm weather to be able to be active outside.

With the next couple months being the last of her Cougar career, Jackman hopes to do the best that she can.

“We have been a little bit sad this year because we’ll really miss being a part of BYU athletics,” said Jeni.

“This season has been pretty rough so far, but I just hope I finish off my career the best I can,” she said. “I just want to enjoy my last season and finish off strong.”

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