April 24, 2012

An Olympic journey

Like many other Americans, David Boudia was captivated by the '96 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

And like many others of the same age, the then 7-year-old dreamed of being an Olympian, wanting to follow in the footsteps of Kerri Strug and her gold-winning "Magnificent Seven" gymnast teammates.

But unlike many of his peers, Boudia's dream wasn't too farfetched. Thanks to athleticism that helped him master sports as an early age, plus - and perhaps more importantly - an often unrivaled drive to excel, the Boilermaker has made that dream a reality. And now, on the eve of the London Games, he's ready for a second opportunity on the medal podium.

The now 22-year old Boudia can look back, fresh off fourth-place finishes in the 10-meter individual and synchronized dives at the FINA World Cup last month in London, and recall the '96 Games as the start of his Olympic journey.

"That is probably one of the greatest stories in the Olympic Games," he said. "This girl, (Strug), has this shattered ankle, and then triumphs through that. She runs on it, vaults on it and wins it," Boudia said. "It gives me chills thinking about it. It is stories like that kind of motivated me to the Olympic Games."

Boudia's story, while not one of overcoming significant injury, is one of steer determination. As a teenager, he gave up public school, instead choosing to train hours a day, then teach himself in online courses during the evening. Although he still attended social events at Noblesville High School, his diploma arrived only in the mail.

Meanwhile, he was embattled in overcoming his own terror, an understandable fear that comes with learning to dive, head-first, into a pool of water from 33-feet up while traveling an average of 32 mph.

Mortals can only imagine.

Later at Purdue, he gave up many of what others would expect from college social life: going to parties, hanging out with friends to the wee hours of the morning, gaining a freshman 15. And instead, he focused on school and diving, and succeeded, winning six NCAA titles in three years, before turning professional prior to this season.

"Still to this day, I am completely impressed with his dedication and the persistence that he has," said his mother, Sheilagh Boudia. "There might be a few times where he lulls, but then he gets right back up there, whether it's about his diet, his exercise, it's such dedication. It's unbelievable to me."

It started young. At 5, Boudia started gymnastics, and was doing back handsprings, to the amazement of his instructors, only a month later. He played soccer, ran cross-country and played basketball through the years.

"Anything that I was going to sweat in or potentially get hurt, then I would do it," he said.

Boudia found diving at 11. Three years later, he moved from the springboard to the platform, and had to overcome paralyzing fear of the event's height and speed. Those days, even the drives to practice were tense, filled with anxiety.

"It was agonizing," Sheilagh Boudia said. "… I would say to him 'David, if you don't want to do this, you don't have to do this, but you've got to figure out what it is you want, and then make that decision.' I could just see it. It was very painful as a parent to watch him with the struggles."

He eventually overcame the fear by drawing out dives as a visualization technique before executing them. And only a few months after taking up the platform, he and his synchro partner finished third in the USA Olympic Trials, only two spots out of qualifying for the Games.

Four years later, he finished 10th in the individual and fifth in the synchro in the '08 Games in Beijing and started classes at Purdue days after returning to the states. Here, he won two events in each of his three seasons, and was thrice the NCAA's Diver-of-the-Year.

Both in his individual event, and with synchro partner Nick McCrory, a Duke student, Boudia's got his eyes set on gold in London.

"He's looking good," said Purdue diving coach Adam Soldati, Boudia's personal coach and part of the USA coaching staff. "What we've always looked for going into a meet is just consistency, and I think we're really dialed in. We know what we need to think and now it's just a matter of executing it and staying calm and relaxed and doing our thing."

Boudia, who is taking online courses this year at Purdue, hoping London - provided he qualifies at the US Trials in June, as expected - will be the second of potentially three Olympic appearances. He wants to do the '16 Games in Rio de Janeiro as well, then retire.

It'll be the culmination of a wild dream years ago.

"I always thought if you didn't reach out and go for your dreams, you never knew if you could accomplish them," Sheilagh Boudia said. "I always supported, whether or not I knew or thought they'd come true was beside the point."





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