MARYSVILLE — Generally speaking, elite high school divers are fearless in competition, dedicated in training and often years in the making.
And then there is Brooke Wherley, a 16-year-old junior at Marysville Getchell High School who is all of the above except that last one. Because until just a few months ago, Wherley had never been a competitive diver and, in fact, had never even entertained the idea.
But a series of injuries and other medical problems forced her late last year to give up gymnastics, her sport of choice since age 8, and in turn that led her to try diving in February. Now just nine months later, Wherley has emerged as one of the premier divers in Washington and is a top contender at this weekend’s District 1 3A swimming and diving championships at Marysville Pilchuck High School, and again at the Nov. 15-16 state 3A championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
“She’s phenomenal,” said Dick Caldwell, her Marysville Getchell diving coach. “She’s a great athlete, she’s very coachable, and she always wants to know what she can do to make a dive a little better.”
The extraordinary thing, Caldwell went on, “is that she’s brand new. She was a gymnast, and that always helps because diving is basically gymnastics with a different apparatus. But even if you’re a gymnast, that doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be a (good) diver. … But she’s come a long way.”
Wherley loved gymnastics, though her years in the sport were interrupted by a series of medical issues. She suffered from Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease — a condition where a lack of blood flow affects the ball of the hip — and endured three surgeries before returning to gymnastics. But over the next few years she also dislocated both elbows with one elbow requiring two operations, and then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, leading to a sixth surgery.
At that point, Wherley said, “I was in a lot of pain everywhere and I figured it was time to stop.” Still, she admitted, “I miss pretty much everything about (gymnastics).”
But two months after leaving the sport last December, a friend suggested diving. The two of them took classes together at Everett’s Forest Park, “and I had a lot of fun with it,” Wherley said. She signed up for more extensive coaching in the spring at the Federal Way pool, returned to train at Forest Park over the summer, and then joined the Marysville Getchell team in the fall.
Her talent was obvious right from the start. Wherley broke the school record in her first meet and has since broken her own mark three more times. She is only a few points away from high school All-American consideration, “and for a first-year diver that’s not bad,” Caldwell said.
Because gymnastics translates roughly to diving, Wherley had an obvious head start over other beginners. But there are also differences between the sports, “and the hardest thing for me was getting used to landing on my head,” she said. “Because you obviously don’t want to do that in gymnastics. That was the most difficult thing for me, learning how to do that.”
Becoming a standout diver requires two things, Caldwell said. “No. 1, you have to be an athlete. You have to have body awareness because you’re flinging yourself up there in all kinds of ways _ twisting, somersaulting, going forward, going in reverse.
“And No. 2, you have to have some serious guts. Because when you’re moving onto a new dive, you might splat a few times and that doesn’t tickle by any means. So you have to be willing to get back up there and do it again.”
At state Wherley will complete 11 different dives, of which eight or nine are comfortable. But the other two or three “are iffy,” she said. “Some days they’re good, some days they’re not, and so we’re working on those. But the rest of them are pretty consistent.”
Wherley, who wants to dive in college, said her goal is to finish in the top three at state. The hope, of course, is a first-place finish, “which would mean a lot to me,” she said.
“I wouldn’t count her out,” Caldwell said. “But at the same time, you have to hit every single dive better than you ever have before because the state champion is a phenomenal diver.
“Brooke is close. But she also hasn’t put it all together where she’s ripped all 11 dives, so maybe she’s saving that one for state.”