Cuba may be a vacation hot spot, but for diver Molly Carlson, her trip to the tropical paradise was all work.
The Thunder Bay teenager spent a week in Cuba preparing for the upcoming Junior Pan-American Games in Tucson, Ariz., getting used to outdoor diving and everything Mother Nature had to throw at her.
Carlson, making her third trip to the Games since 2009, said it was an important part of her training as she tries to take the next step in what she hopes one day will be an Olympic career.
“We went so that we could get experience with the rain and the climate and it will really help with the same kind of thing in Tucson, because it will be an outdoor pool as well,” said Carlson, a member of the Thunder Bay Dive Club and student at St. Ignatius High School.
Jason Napper, one of the club’s original members who has returned this season to take over the coaching reins, said Cuba was a fantastic chance for Carlson to train with the best up-and-coming divers the country has to offer.
While it is an individual sport, there’s plenty to learn from others, he said.
“It’s very team oriented. There’s a lot of support with your teammates, so she got to partake in that on a day-to-day basis,” said Napper, who won gold in the one-metre springboard diving competition at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, picking up bronze in the three-metre category.
“It was a great opportunity for them to experience a lot of things they will be encountering possibly in Tucson – the real intense heat and heavy, heavy sun pounding down on them, the wind, the possibility of thunder and lightning, they encountered it all.”
The youngster said it’s all systems go as she finalizes her preparation for the Games.
“I’m really excited and I feel ready to compete and represent Canada the best that I can because with all this training that we’ve been through, I feel as ready as I can be.”
On the line is a shot at a spot on the Canadian junior team and a chance to dive at the junior world championship.
“That would be a cool thing too,” she said.
Carlson, who’s been diving for as long as she can remember, said the thrill of competition is what keeps her going.
“If you didn’t love it, then there’s no point in doing it. I love it and it’s good to see all these young people from Thunder Bay wanting to come join me on that train,” she said, joining teammates at the Thunder Bay Dive Club’s open house Thursday night at the Canada Games Complex.
Carlson hopes her experience at her two previous Junior Pan-Am Games appearances will bode well in the Arizona heat.
“I know what to expect,” Carlson said. “I know the other competition and being able to be confident competing against other countries. It’s not like it’s going to be my first time. I think it will be cool,” she said.
While not wanting to put too much pressure on herself, she’s still got some pretty lofty goals heading into Tucson.
“If I dive my best then I’m hoping to get a medal. If I don’t, it’s going to be a cool experience. But I’m hoping to dive my best.”
The Games are scheduled to run from Sept. 26 to 29 at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center on the University of Arizona campus.
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