When senior Kellyn Toole arrived at Grinnell College in Iowa March 1 for the NCAA Region 2 Diving Championships, she thought it would be the last dive meet of her athletic career. Going into the competition, Toole was nervous, but mostly excited to catch up with old friends from other universities. She had no plans to advance or qualify for nationals and for most of the competition, she didn’t pay any attention to the scoreboard.
So Toole was shocked when she was told she had won the one-meter board competition, with a score of 403.55. Earlier in the weekend, Toole also placed third in the three-meter board with a score of 386.25, making her the first-ever Chapman diver to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Swimming and Diving Championships.
“I genuinely had no idea,” Toole said. “My friend came up to me at the end of the day and said, ‘Great job. I’ll see you in a few weeks at nationals,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’”
This is an unexpected accomplishment for Toole because she took up diving a bit late. Toole’s athletic career began with learning gymnastics as a three-year-old in her hometown of Centennial, Colorado. As a freshman at Regis Jesuit High School, Toole continued to practice gymnastics, but decided to try out for the high school’s dive team when she heard they were looking for new recruits.
From there, Toole experienced a smooth transition from gymnastics to diving because gymnastics had prepared her with the “body awareness” and flexibility required to be a diver.
But now, she said, learning new dives can be a daunting task – especially because she has grown increasingly aware of the “possibility of getting hurt.”
“I wish I started younger, because when you’re younger, you don’t have as much fear,” Toole said.
Throughout high school, Toole juggled gymnastics, diving and track. But, during her senior year, she broke her foot on a beam during gymnastics practice.
“I felt like my bones were giving up on me,” Toole said.
Shortly after, she decided it might be best to give gymnastics a break. By the time Toole arrived at Chapman, she was ready to focus on diving. As a strategic and corporate communication major, she said joining the dive team in her freshman year of college helped her quickly make friends and settle into a new environment.
“Being able to go to practice and see some friendly faces was a good way for me to adjust,” Toole said.
Toole soon caught the eye of head coach Miguel Rodriguez, and in her sophomore year, Toole was appointed as captain of the dive team.
“As our team captain, she brings her positive attitude and strong work ethic and leads by example,” Rodriguez said.
Toole has also earned the praise of fellow teammate and friend, a junior kinesiology major, Katelyn Henderson.
“She’s an amazing captain,” Henderson said. “She’s always able to motivate us during practice and keep us both working and laughing no matter what dives we’re working on.”
Toole’s fondest memories from Chapman are the moments she has with her teammates during dive practices. Toole particularly remembers a memorable “running gag” with former teammate Cierra Rago, who graduated last year with a degree in biological sciences.
“Whenever it was cold outside, she would look at me and go, ‘Assume the position,’ and I would crouch into a little ball,” Toole said. “She would come and lay on top of me. We would just sit there like that and warm each other up.”
Toole considers her qualification for the NCAA Division III National Swimming and Diving Championships her “proudest accomplishment” yet.
“I’ve never made it this far before and I think it’s pretty cool that I get to go out with a bang my senior year,” Toole said.
At the championships — which will be held in Greensboro, North Carolina, from March 20 to 23 — Toole will compete in the one-meter and three-meter board events.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and seeing all the other divers,” Toole said. “I’m ready to just do my best at nationals.”