ELHS Diver Gwen Petrie Reflects on Her Path to a 10th-Place Finish at States

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Photo courtesy of Gwen Petrie.

ELHS sophomore Gwen Petrie placed 10th in the state finals for diving.

When the Covid-19 pandemic set in, and Gwen Petrie was sequestered from her usual spring and summer pastime — diving with the Spartan Swim Club and sports in general — the East Lansing High School sophomore turned to her trampoline.

Along with bike rides and rollerblading to stay in shape, Petrie took to her backyard to get even a minimal amount of diving practice in.

“Normally throughout the summer I just use it randomly,” Petrie said. “So I guess during quarantine, when I had nothing to do was when I mainly did it.”

While the trampoline time may not have been the deciding factor in Petrie achieving her goal of finishing in the top 10 in the state, her creativity and dedication resulted in a 10th place finish at the State Finals diving meet last Friday. A little more than a year after finishing 18th and going through several pauses to her sophomore season, Petrie accomplished her goal.

“That would be pretty, pretty big for her,” Madelyn Zink, Petrie’s coach, said. “She’s only 15. So going to states twice is pretty, pretty impressive for her. She’s ahead of the curve already, even if she doesn’t realize it.”

Petrie was wrapping up her gymnastics season (following diving) in March 2020 when the pandemic put life on hold.

Unlike athletes in sports played on grass, who could gather in small groups to practice or at least workout, Petrie needed a pool to fully practice, and none were open. The various camps and club sports she’d participate in during the summer were off the table, too.

She did her best to stay in shape, not sure if the next diving season would even happen. The season, like others, was delayed in starting and went along with starts and stops. And without the usual weeks of practice prior to the season beginning in earnest, and without a way to truly hone her craft in the summer, Petrie started the 2020-21 season in the same place she finished the 2019-20 season.

“And so that was tough throughout the season, realizing that I wasn’t learning much and I just had to try and get back into it,” Petrie said. “But I had to make sure that I remembered that it was because of the lack of practice that we had.”

The season progressed, and Petrie got back into form. When the time came, she had qualified for states again.

Then, the season was put on hold, again.

Zink said the coaches emphasized throughout the season that this could happen, but it still didn’t stop it from stinging when it looked like the opportunity might be gone.

“We knew it was building up to that point, and we knew it could happen at any day now,” Zink said, “and then they finally made the call that they were not going to have that meet.”

It became a waiting game for Zink and Petrie, watching the chance for Petrie to achieve her goal fluctuate.

“Obviously she was really hoping to get that state meet,” Zink said, “and then just, it kind of became an, ‘Oh, it’s going to happen. It’s not going to happen. And then it’s going to happen. It’s not going to happen.’”

“After regionals,” Petrie said, “when we were told that we had to stop practicing and states was going to be postponed, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, sure. Postponed. Funny.’”

Certain that “postponed” would become “canceled,” Petrie turned her attention towards gymnastics, which she finds slightly more difficult. She didn’t want to be let down again.

And she wouldn’t be. The diving state meet was finally slated for Friday, Jan. 15. Petrie was surprised it even happened.

“I’m glad no one gave up,” she remembers thinking at the time.

By that point, with all the delays and dashed hopes, she didn’t particularly care about how she placed at the meet. Just getting to the finish line itself felt like enough.

Because of that, Petrie wasn’t nervous diving on Friday, and she credits her at-peace state of mind with aiding her performance. Plus, there wasn’t a large crowd, making it a less stressful environment.

She placed 10th, achieving her goal — one she almost didn’t get a chance to meet, one that didn’t matter as much, all things considered.

“I was just thinking,” Petrie said, “I’m just glad that this is even happening.”

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