Conversation: Laura Wilkinson
God first, medals second
Laura Wilkinson is one of the most decorated American divers
in the history of international competition. Since joining the U.S. National
Team in 1995, she has set a high standard by becoming the only female diver to
win 10-meter platform gold at the world championships (2005), World Cup (2004),
Olympic Games (2000) and Goodwill Games (1998).
After briefly contemplating retirement after the 2004
Olympics, Wilkinson has decided to make one last run at Olympic glory. But her
reasons have little to do with personal gain and everything to do with
redirecting the spotlight towards her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
TPE caught up with Wilkinson to learn more about her past
and catch a glimpse into her future.
tpe: How did you get involved in diving?
WILKINSON: I was 7 years old when I got into gymnastics. I
got to a point where I realized that I wasn’t going to be the next Mary Lou
Retton and I needed to find something that I could be great at because I just
felt like I was supposed to be good at something. At the end of my freshman
year in high school I discovered diving. My previous experience in gymnastics
helped me make a quick transition.
tpe: What do you remember most about growing up in Spring,
WILKINSON: I became a Christian at a very young age. I was 8
years old, and it just made sense. I was like, “Why wouldn’t people do this?” I
totally got it, and I was really excited about God. Then I entered my freshman
year of high school, and I switched churches. I started going to a youth group
with one of my friends, and I started to see that some of the kids would be one
way at church and then we’d go out after church and they would be totally
I felt really uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to handle
it, so I just stopped going, which is the complete opposite of what I should
have done. At that point, I got confused and so I walked away from it, but then
I ended up becoming just like them. I wasn’t living for God, and I was trying
to take things into my own control.
My sophomore year in college, I realized my being in control
of my life just made a mess of things. I knew I needed God back. I totally
recommitted my life, and it’s just been different ever since.
tpe: You’ve listed your parents as some of the most
influential people in your life. How have they inspired you?
WILKINSON: My parents are great examples of integrity.
They’re just awesome. They don’t swear. They don’t drink. They’re just so
concerned about the people around them. They’re very loving. They’re still
together. They’re just really good living examples. They just live it out. They
don’t have to tell you what to do. They just do it, and that’s taught me that
the best example that you can be is to just be it. Instead of telling somebody,
you should just live it out.
tpe: Your journey to the 2000 Summer Olympics was pretty
rocky. Can you describe the circumstances that made getting to Sydney (and then
winning the gold medal) so special?
WILKINSON: I came home from school that year and left my
scholarship behind. I was training full-on for the Olympics. I knew it might be
my one and only chance. I was going to give it all I had. And then I broke my
foot three months before trials.
It was this big letdown for about a week, and then I
realized how badly I wanted to be back in the water. Before that, my dream was
getting fuzzy and out of focus, but the injury helped refocus me towards
accomplishing my goals. From then on, I just made up my mind that I was going
for it and I wasn’t going to look back. I just knew that God had given me this
dream, so I had to do it.
So for the next few weeks, I would hop up the ladder to the
10-meter platform and sit on the edge in my street clothes visualizing my dives
and doing the arm motions. I watched tons of videotape with my coach and just
focused on the mental side of diving.
I’m not sure what was more special — winning the
Olympic trials or winning the Olympics. Both of those were so monumental,
because when I won trials I had only been back in the water for three weeks.
That’s unreal, not to mention the fact that I won the trials by 40 points.
tpe: How did you deal with the disappointment of finishing
fifth at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens?
WILKINSON: It was definitely disappointing because I had won
before, but I was a little behind going into it because I’d had a foot surgery
earlier that year and I was finishing school. I really didn’t know my dives as
well as I should have.
It was disappointing, but at the same time my mission going
in was to glorify God first and win a medal second. I didn’t win a medal, but I
did glorify God. I thanked Him in an interview. I don’t think it ever aired,
but that was the first thing out of my mouth. My whole attitude about it isn’t
what people expect. They always expect me to be all ticked off, but it was
great. I loved Greece. It was a fantastic Olympics.
tpe: What was your inspiration for taking a shot at your
third Olympic Games this summer in Beijing?
WILKINSON: Not medaling in Athens actually turned into fuel
for a new passion for the sport. I had to go through wrist surgery after that,
and I thought maybe I’d just do one more year. I ended up winning the world
championships for the first time, and I started learning new dives. I mean, you
don’t start learning new dives when you’re about to retire. I could just tell
that I really wanted to keep doing this. Sometimes it’s tough because most of
my friends are settling down and having kids. I don’t always know if I want to
be doing this, but then God will just remind me, “Oh no, this is what you’re
meant to do. This is what you love. I have you here because this is what I made
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