The road to the Olympics is a daily grind, often in solitude or with a coach observing. Few people see an athlete’s commitment that culminates in a few minutes every four years at an Olympic Games. And then there are times, during a pandemic, where your sport is diving and you can’t even find a pool.
“That would have been my coach John’s driveway,” said Katrina Young, a Florida State student-athlete from 2010-15 who still trains in Tallahassee with diving coach John Proctor. “I remember when everything shut down, we were scrambling and not sure if the Olympics were going to happen on the same timeline or what would happen. So he gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, come train in my gym.’ He had set it up perfectly. And it was some of the best training that I’ve done. I felt really motivated. And we did a lot of drills and diving drills and flips in his driveway. We just got creative.”
Creative? Yes. Proctor had already cleaned out the garage, so they would meet up at his house and do what they could each day.
“I put a gym in my garage for my family and me about two years ago,” Proctor said. “And Katrina has a background in Olympic lifting. So it really had everything that she needed to stay active and stay in great shape and really get in even better shape. So that kind of became the goal was just to get her in the best shape of her life. And she really did that. She’s super fit. We borrowed a mat from the pool and put it out there next to my truck and put an iPad there.
“And it really ended up being kind of a blessing because it allowed her to focus on things in a way that you wouldn’t normally be able to do. We would have been focused in other areas. But it really let her isolate things that needed some attention. And the end result was that her takeoffs are better now than they’ve ever been. So it worked out.”
It worked out quite well. Young was already one of the top divers in the U.S., qualifying in the 10-meter platform and taking 13th in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She later took the bronze in the 2019 FINA World Championships in the 10-meter synchro and team event and was poised for a run at Tokyo in 2020. The Olympics were pushed back a year due to the pandemic, and the 10-meter prelims will take place on Aug. 4.
Young is one of eight FSU swimmers or divers to compete in multiple Olympic Games and joins a group of Seminoles who will make the trip to Tokyo this summer. Three other swimmers are going – Ida Hulkko (Finland), Julio Horrego (Hondruas) and Emir Muratovic (Bosnia & Herzegovina). Left-handed pitcher Drew Parrish helped the U.S. baseball team qualify but is not officially on the roster, which is expected to be finalized on July 1.
A current soccer player, Gabby Carle, will be an alternate for the Canadian team and Casey Short (now Casey Krueger) will be an alternate for the U.S. FSU graduate Nick Lucena, who is married to beach volleyball coach Brooke Niles, will also compete in beach volleyball along with teammate Phil Dalhausser. The list is expected to grow, especially as nations hold Olympic Trials around the world in track and field.
Tallahassee, FSU became a second home
Young grew up in an athletic family in Shoreline, Wash. Whether it was gymnastics or diving, it was how they stayed busy growing up.
“My younger brother, Eddie, and my older sister, Samantha, we all followed similar pathways and all ended up being out at the aquatic center together and diving together,” Young said. “That was such a great time. And I have really fond memories of us all practicing together and being in a car and joking around and playing music and driving my mom crazy. And so that really just added to the love that I have of the sport.”
Young was seeking “to find my own identity” and warmer weather, choosing to move across the country to Tallahassee and study at FSU. She was a two-time All-American and an All-ACC diver, taking the league title on the platform in 2012, ’14 and ’15. She studied music and graduated in 2015. Young holds the ACC meet record at 364.70 in the women’s platform.
“I’ve loved it here,” Young said. “I’ve stayed here and had a really great time at FSU and in Tallahassee. After I graduated in 2015, I’ve been supported fully by FSU. It’s been a second home to me. I have my home in Seattle, and I feel totally at home here at FSU. The athletic director, David Coburn, has gotten me right back in the pool as soon as he was able to and all of my training has been top notch. I really have FSU to thank for that. And I just feel at home here and like, the whole community is behind me.”
Young also found a training partner during the pandemic in Kimberly Williams, a track star at FSU from 2007-11. Williams was a five-time NCAA champion and represented Jamaica at the 2012 and ’16 Summer Olympics, and she too will make a push for Tokyo.
Olympics in gene pool
Like many of FSU’s top swimmers and divers, Young aspired to compete in the Olympics. The FSU coaching staff has obviously helped her development in the sport. But Young also had a family connection: Her grandmother Elaine Silburn competed for Canada in the 1948 Olympics in track and field.
“Her training experience was really rigorous, it was a little different because she did high jump and long jump and track and field,” Young said. “But at the same time, I guess I’m jumping, too. So I’m sure I learned something from her about that. And the main thing for her was that she’s very competitive. And she knows how to turn it on. And so I’ve learned a lot from her about just being in that moment. And rising to the pressure. So I feel grateful to her for that.”
Young reflected this week on what has been a fun but challenging year. The plan was to compete in Tokyo in 2020 and get married. Then the Summer Olympics were postponed. So she and her fiancé, Mike Kofman, got married. Young says Mike helps keep her grounded and understands the demands of her training. Once she knew the Summer Olympics were back on for Tokyo, albeit a year later, she focused on qualifying in the U.S. Olympic Trials a few weeks ago.
“The fact that we have the opportunity to compete at all is a blessing for me because it’s a huge part of my life and something I prioritize, and I look at it as a way to connect with people, a way to show my family what I’ve been working on,” Young said. “And I just love coming to the pool every day and working with John and working with my teammates and it’s something that my heart yearns for. And it’s something I love to do.”
Proctor arrived in Tallahassee in 2014, as Young was beginning her senior season. But the diver-coach relationship continued in the ensuing years and he has been her personal coach as well as a Team USA diving coach. From the pool to the driveway and soon departing for Tokyo, Proctor has seen Young flourish and perform at the highest levels.
“She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met — or at least in the top three,” Proctor said. “She’s always been an exceptional athlete. But what she’s really learned how to do is how to call her emotions into check and how to center herself so that she can do what her body’s capable of in the moments that count. And that takes every single day diligence from the first conversation that I have with her about that. She bought in and she constantly keeps herself in the middle of the road. Anytime an athlete’s training at that level with goals like what she has, it’s so easy to let yourself veer off the path because this hurts or this isn’t working today or I’m tired. She’s been through all of those things and always takes two seconds, pulls herself back together and goes back to work. And she’s done that basically non-stop for eight years.
“She’s just an amazing mental specimen now. But she’s worked very, very hard at it. We’ll definitely miss her around here when she’s not diving anymore. But she’s an example that I will use as something to teach about as long as I continue to do this.”