Meet a St. John’s Dive Coach who keeps making new jumps

There is an undisputed fearlessness in divers.

Think about this: For about a decade, FINA, the international governing body for watersports, has sanctioned World High Diving Championships, in which athletes climb towers 20 to 27 meters and then jump into the water below.

Those distances are two to almost three times greater than in the 10-meter tower, the highest discipline in Olympic diving, and tall divers have been known to reach speeds of more than 90 kilometers on one attempt.

The point here is not to promote high diving, but to emphasize the courage divers must have, or at least find within themselves, to – pardon the pun – take the plunge, whether from a three-foot springboard. or reach the towers mentioned above from the air.

And that kind of athletic prowess, experts will tell us, can manifest itself in everyday life.

José Palma at ‘the office’ — the Aquarena pool deck in St. John’s. – Saltwire network

Take José Gregorio Palma Rivas, short for José Palma, the first full-time coaching at the Edge Diving Club at St. John’s in over a decade.

When Palma came here to be interviewed for his current job, it happened by chance when Hurricane Larry hit Newfoundland in early September 2021, but that stormy reception didn’t stop Palma from eventually accepting the job and moving, along with his wife Alejandra and their two children, from Surrey, BC,

“I thought, ‘Is this my welcome?’ said Palma, laughing. “But no. I’m actually from Venezuela and they have tropical storms, so it was like ‘OK.’”

Palma, who started working with Edge in late October, was at the White Rock Diving Club in BC

He was recommended by Diving Canada to the St. John’s club, who had not had full-time coaching since Mary and Steve Carroll’s wife-husband combination left in 2008. Since then, the self-funded Edge has relied on volunteer coaches, the latest of which is Jill Brewer. That was until the national body came up with some money that made Palma’s recruitment possible.

Palma sits on the pool deck with his nine-year-old son Juandiego Palma, also a diver at the club.  -Joe Gibbons/The Telegram - Saltwire Network
Palma sits on the pool deck with his nine-year-old son Juandiego Palma, also a diver at the club. -Joe Gibbons/The Telegram – Saltwire Network

Coming across the country to St. John’s isn’t his first daring move.

In his Venezuelan hometown of Valera, Palma had been a successful competitive swimmer in his youth, competing in national events in the mid to late 1990s.

But after a new water facility was built in that city for the upcoming national games, a facility with a dedicated diving department, Palma was distracted during the training sessions.

“I’d actually always watched the divers and thought I’d like to do that sort of thing. Then a Cuban coach came to start a (full-time) diving program and he recruited divers for the following nationals. He started with 30 athletes – swimmers and gymnasts, for example – and then it came down to just four, including me.”

But Palma was also still swimming, and when it came to the upcoming national competitions in Venezuela, he was so taken over by officials who made the decisions about the different teams. Still, his interest in diving remained and not just as a competitor. Although the Cuban coach only stayed for a year, Palma considers him an inspiration for a career as a diving coach.

Palma talks to diver Chloe Penney, 10, after one of her dives.— Joe Gibbons
Palma talks to diver Chloe Penney, 10, after one of her dives.— Joe Gibbons

“He was my first mentor,” said Palma, “but I also spoke with other coaches in Venezuela and then with coaches brought in from other countries – Mexico, Russia, England and China. I learned more and more.”

He was sent off for coaching clinics in Mexico and Cuba, working his way through accreditation levels and soon producing Valera divers that were successful nationally and internationally.

But even as an up and coming coach in his country, Palma had finally decided that he had to stay on his feet.

The political and social unrest, along with the accompanying economic crisis that swept through Venezuela in mid-2010, had convinced Palma to leave a place he loved dearly.

“I had to do it for him,” he said, pointing to his son, Juan D (Juan Diego), how a nine-year-old diver at the Edge club. “I had to give my family a future.”

Palma discusses technique with Edge diver Merrick Noel, 15, after diving off the 3-meter board.  — Joe Gibbons
Palma discusses technique with Edge diver Merrick Noel, 15, after diving off the 3-meter board. — Joe Gibbons

Initially, he expected to move to another South American country, but while there was interest, he learned that he would have to wait for a suitable opening. But then, while traveling to a competition in Cuba, he met Diving Canada officials and learned of the opportunity in British Columbia.

Moving across Canada last fall was a bold act, but Palma and his wife’s 2018 move to a country they’d never seen before was the bravest act of all, as they were everything and everyone, as they left. they had ever known.

Palma gets bittersweet when he talks about his family in Venezuela, but wins when he looks at Juan D.

“It’s been the best,” he said. “I don’t regret anything.”

Now, like his Cuban mentor 25 years ago, he’s tasked with building a club and roster of divers.

Short-term work at Edge – the only competitive diving club in Newfoundland and Labrador – includes preparing athletes for the Canada Summer Games in the Niagara region of Ontario, which were to be held in 2021 but due to the Covid pandemic. One of the longer-term tasks is to prepare a team and the Aquarena facility for the 2025 Canada Games, scheduled for St. John’s.

To this end, he recruits as his first coach did, looking for people who want to dive in, literally and figuratively.

Palma wants athletes, but above all he wants determination.

“They have to be willing to practice and practice. They should be able to try and try again,” he said.

And a little courage will help too.

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