The Renee Jordan Story: Record-setting All-American diver parlays pool dominance into academic success
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The Renee Jordan Story: Record-setting All-American diver parlays pool dominance into academic success

Renee Jordan ’14 jumps off the diving board on Jan. 12 in a meet against conference foes St. Olaf and Augsburg. Despite getting a relatively late start to the sport, Jordan was recently named MIAC Diver of the Year. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell / SportShotPhoto.com
Renee Jordan ’14 jumps off the diving board on Jan. 12 in a meet against conference foes St. Olaf and Augsburg.
Despite getting a relatively late start to the sport, Jordan was recently named MIAC Diver of the Year. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell / SportShotPhoto.com

Curt Schilling. Carlos Boozer. Renee Jordan? What these three athletes all have in common is they hail from the state of Alaska. While Jordan ’14 (Anchorage, AK) may not be at a professional level quite yet, she does have notable accomplishments in her time at Macalester as a member of the women’s swimming and diving team.

Last weekend at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Swimming & Diving Championships, Jordan won the 3-meter diving finals with a score of 464.95, which broke her own school record. She also finished runner-up behind Macalester teammate Hunter Hedenberg ’16 (Newton, MA) on the 1-meter board. After the event, Jordan was named MIAC Diver of the Year.

“I was really honored to be named Diver of the Year,” Jordan said about the award. “I wasn’t expecting it to be me, so when they announced my name I was actually across the pool and had to sprint over to the podium.”

Jordan’s diving coach, Jake Dunn, was also named MIAC Diving Coach of the Year after the event. He had nothing but praise for his diver.

“Renee basically has one of the hardest, if not the hardest, list of dives on 3-meter for women’s Division III at the moment,” said Dunn. “When I tell her she needs to work on harder dives, she’s willing to do that. She puts in the work and she doesn’t shy away from it. She goes at it head first.”

Yet Jordan is still quite new to the sport of diving. In fact, Jordan spent most of her early childhood training and competing as a gymnast. And if she wasn’t at the gym, she was outside enjoying the Alaskan fresh air.

“I grew up in a very active, outdoorsy family,” said Jordan. “Hiking, biking, camping, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing, ice-skating, and skiing were frequent activities.”

Once she made it to high school, Jordan gave up on gymnastics and decided to join the swim team.  However, Jordan realized after one practice that her passion wasn’t with freestyle or the breaststroke.

“We were doing a particularly boring set one day and I kept watching the divers and thinking that they looked like they were having way more fun,” she said. “So I tried to do gymnastic tricks off the board and it actually worked really well.”

Count Coach Beth Whittle among those who are glad Jordan made the jump to diving. “Renee is extremely unique in her athletic gifts in both diving and swimming,” said Whittle. “In my 12 years as a college coach, I have not coached anyone else who was equally talented in both areas.”

Jordan’s Macalester career started off with a bang. After a long college search, Jordan picked Macalester after being recruited by diving coach Bob Pearson. “Macalester kind of just happened,” Jordan said.

Jordan made her mark early, qualifying for the Division III National Championships as a freshman, one of only three in the nation to do so, and earning All-American honors.

Dunn explained that to qualify for nationals Jordan had to first attain a qualifying score which ranked her among the top 50-80 athletes in Division III. Dunn then had to send a videotape of her best performances to a national diving committee. Only 22 divers were then selected to compete at the national tournament. “I think she just completely exceeded her expectations that year,” Dunn said. “It was really great.”

After a successful first season, Jordan began her second season in a similarly strong fashion. Jordan dominated the majority of her competition, even defeating last year’s Diver of the Year St. Catherine’s Sarah Moody, before her season was abruptly cut short at the conference meet when she broke her hand after hitting it on the diving board during warm-ups.

Although hit with a debilitating injury, Jordan refused to believe her season was done. “She just didn’t want to take care of herself,” Dunn said. “She said that her team was depending on her to score those points. She was putting them first. It didn’t happen because I said ‘no’ … but the fact that she even wanted to try is just a statement to her determination and what she’s willing to do for the team.”

Jordan, a team captain this year, now holds all four school diving records. “She is constantly striving to bring our swimmers and divers together to be one cohesive team,” Whittle said. “I think she inspires her teammates with her work ethic and dedication to excellence.”

“The motivation she has for diving and winning is an amazing thing to watch,” teammate Elise Hollinger ’14 (New London, NH) said. “Being near her on the pool deck can make anyone want to better themselves as athletes.”

Dunn explained the five categories of dives: forward, back, reverse, inwards, and twisting (a combination of somersaults and twists). He said that Jordan’s current repertoire includes a 2 ½ list or 2 ½ somersaults and 2 ½ rotations before she hits the water. Dunn described how a more difficult dive, such as the 2 ½ list, receives a higher degree of difficulty score which is then multiplied by the diver’s raw score, based on execution. “By doing these harder dives, she’s setting herself apart from the girls not willing to try the harder dives,” Dunn said.

Dunn cited Jordan’s strength and conditioning an advantage over her competition. “She’s a former gymnast, so she has a lot of strength from that,” he said. “She’s taken that work ethic from the diving board and she’s applied it to working with Steve Murray in the weight room.”

Jordan has recently focused on improving her mental preparation for competition, working with golf coach Tomas Adalsteinsson, who has a Masters in Sports Psychology. “He’s helped her so she can be mentally prepared, execute, and then move on to the next dive,” Dunn said.

“She focuses so much on what she can do to do better in meets that you feel empowered when [you’re] standing near her,” Hollinger said. “She oozes confidence.”

While Jordan’s diving skills may be accumulating the majority of praise, her ability as a swimmer has also been recognized. Whittle recalled her first meet as then-interim head coach when the women’s team was short on 800 free relay members. Whittle said that although Jordan was solely training as a diver she was asked to join the “B” relay. Jordan hesitantly agreed. “Imagine my surprise when Renee swam faster than any of the other seven girls, those on both the B relay and the A relay,” Whittle said. “I apologized then, not for needing her for a relay, but for underestimating her potential. She should have been on the A relay rather than the B relay.”

As a Macalester student-athlete, Jordan has parlayed her confidence in the pool into the classroom as well. She maintains a 3.2 GPA as a Chemistry/Biochemistry major and Biology and Philosophy minor. “Renee outside of the pool directs her drive and focus towards her school work,” Hollinger said. “Her ability to change focus and give it 100% is very valuable.”

“Occasionally she’ll come to practice asking me a question, and I don’t know why she’s asking the question, but she just wants an answer,” said Dunn. “It’s funny because I often have the complete opposite view than her, and when it comes to having an argument about those views, she always wins. If she wanted to go on to law school after Macalester, she’d be really successful. It’s frustrating. She’s just a junior in college, and I’ve been out for 11 years now, but it’s fun. Just on a personal level, she’s a great kid, like a family member to me.”

After Macalester, Jordan plans on pursuing a career in environmental chemistry. “As much as I love [swimming and diving], it’s not my top priority, so we’ll see where I end up,” she said. “Maybe I’ll become a coach.”

Despite her numerous accolades, Jordan remains poised, hoping to set more records. She cites Jay-Z for her motivation, “‘I’m on to the next one, on to the next one; I’m on to the next one, on to the next one,’” she said.

Whether she’s in the classroom, the pool, or on the diving board, Jordan exudes a sense of fearlessness. “She’s really a strong character,” Dunn said. “She’s determined and willing to go after what she wants.”

February 22, 2013

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