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Claremont dive clubbers keep on winning

by Melina Tisopulos

Though diving is not as popular among teen athletes as swimming, soccer, or football, it has the support of a small but fiercely devoted local community.

Robbie McLellan, a varsity collegiate coach for Pomona-Pitzer swimming and diving, founded The Claremont Pomona Dive Club in 2019. There he and his staff train Claremont and surrounding area youth in springboard and platform diving.

“It fits right into what I am doing collegiately,” McLellan said. “Being a division three coach, my athletes can’t train during the off-season. Having a club gives them the opportunity to teach during the off-season, keeping their skills fresh in their head.”

(L to R) Abbey Ekstrom and Carlie Rose with coach Ahmed Elsayed at the Amateur Athletic Union Diving National Championships in San Antonio, Texas. Photo/courtesy Claremont Pomona Dive Club

While the club welcomes all skill levels, some of its members perform at an exceptional caliber. One of these athletes is rising Fullerton Union High School senior Abbey Ekstrom.

Ten years ago, Ekstrom won free diving lessons in an elementary school raffle and has remained dedicated since then. With her many years of experience have come numerous titles. In May, she won the one- and three-meter competitions at the USA Diving Junior Region 8 Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, defending her titles from the previous year. During her most recent season for Fullerton Union High, she placed first in CIF Division Ⅲ in the combination one- and three-meter dive competition. This week she traveled to Midland, Texas to compete in the USA Diving Junior National Championships.

Beyond the sport itself, Ekstrom values diving for the community it has introduced to her.

“During meets, I like meeting people from different teams and states,” she said. “I have friends from New York, Nebraska, Texas, Florida, and just from all over. That’s been super awesome.”

In October, Ekstrom verbally committed to continue diving at Pennsylvania State University. Striving to further improve as a diver, their Big Ten competition pool and strong coaching staff was appealing. The university’s great academics, campus location, and contrasting climate from California also interested her.

Carlie Rose, another standout at CPDC, began her diving career after nine years of competitive gymnastics. When her gym closed during the pandemic, she decided to seize the opportunity to try something different. With a gymnastics background and a love for swimming, diving piqued her interest. Though transitioning from a long-held activity to one of unfamiliarity was intimidating, her connection was instant.

“I remember coming in and being super nervous, but then there was a really great group of girls and an amazing coach, who is still my coach today,” Rose said. “I remember feeling like this was what I was supposed to do.”

With only two and-a-half years of experience under her belt, Rose is newer to the sport than most of her teammates but is nonetheless a decorated diver. Competing for Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, she is a two-time Baseline League champion and a CIF Division Ⅰ finalist. Entering her junior year season, she aims to improve her hurdle and take off with the goal of making it onto the podium for CIF finals.

One of Rose’s challenges as an athlete has been learning how to compete while having Tourette’s Syndrome. While her symptoms have gotten milder as she ages, she remains dedicated to spreading awareness and dispelling myths about the neurological movement disorder. In February, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to undergo training to become a youth ambassador for the Tourette’s Association of America.

From July 16 to 23 Rose and Ekstrom dove at the highly competitive Amateur Athletic Union Diving National Championship in San Antonio, Texas. They both performed remarkably well, with Ekstrom winning the national title on the one- and three-meter springboard, and Rose earning all-American status on the three-meter and placing 11th in the country.

Having watched their countless repetitions and growth in confidence leading up to the competition, the athlete’s CPDC coach, Ahmed Elsayed, is very satisfied with their results.

“Both of them exceeded my expectations,” Elsayed said. “It’s nationals, so there is a lot of stress and pressure, but like we all say, pressure builds diamonds. It’s so great as a club that’s been open for only two years and had to shut down practices during the pandemic. We’re doing very well.”

Melina Tisopulos is a rising senior at Claremont High School and is the COURIER’s summer intern.

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