This isn’t the first Olympics for which diver Laura Wilkinson has had to change her training regimen. When she broke three bones in her right foot six months before competing in the Sydney Games in 2000, Wilkinson incorporated visualization techniques into her preparation, picturing her dives when her injury limited her in practice. Two decades later, training with a shattered foot feels like simpler times.

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Wilkinson, the last U.S. woman to win an Olympic individual diving medal when she won platform gold in Sydney, is working to qualify for her fourth Games without her usual resources much in the same way as all of her fellow Olympic hopefuls. But the 10-meter diver is also racing the clock at 42, still coming back from neck surgery she had 16 months ago and preparing for Tokyo with four new training partners her three daughters and her son, all of whom are under 9.

I’ve just learned to roll with the punches, Wilkinson said of training during the novel coronavirus pandemic. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy, it doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it, but you learn to roll with it, make the best of it and find a way to get through it or I don’t even like to look at the other side. You just learn to deal.

When she took the top prize in Sydney, Wilkinson was the first American woman to win a gold medal in platform diving since 1964, and she went on to compete in 2004 and 2008 before hanging up her goggles to start a family. She went to the next two Olympic 2020 Games with NBC and noticed that the difficulty of dives in her event, which had increased exponentially between 2000 and 2008, was leveling off. She started to ponder a comeback, even though when she retired at 30 she was already more than a decade older than most of her competitors. What began as weekly trips to the pool for fun in the fall of 2016 culminated with a second-place finish at the national championships less than a year later.

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“I was mad. I didn’t dive very well. Because I did this dumb thing on my arm stand in the semifinals, I had to, like okay, is the fighter still in me? Wilkinson said. I had to claw my way back. So that part was fun to me like, I’m still that competitor. I think when I first became a mom, I thought I had to put all my dreams away and put them down and be a mom for them; it’s their turn. But what I’m learning is to be a mom; it’s like a new do-over.”

They’re starting to encourage me, like, ‘You’re doing a great job, Mom!’ as they’re playing next to me and I’m sweating bullets, Wilkinson said. When I do the flips they’ll come out, and my little one likes to coach me sometimes, tell me to add a flip or jump higher. It’s not adding up in their brains right now, but I think it’s going to. They’ll start to realize, if you want to do something, no matter what’s going on around you, you’ve got to figure out a way to do it. Hopefully, we can always come back to that.

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