Diving to the top
February 3, 2012
By Sarah Gerdes
Newport Hills resident Maraea Skeen is among the elite athetes in the Western Region
Diving has become one of the most popular spectator sports at the Olympics. It combines the unique attributes of gymnastics, dancing, grace and athleticism.
But for 20-year-old Newport Hills resident Maraea Skeen, diving also offers something else.
“It’s a thrill,” she said, describing jumping from 20 feet above the water into a cold pool.
Skeen’s zeal for diving has lifted her from the ranks of elite high school athletes to a top competitor in the Western Region.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never once seen a person, male or female, have such intense concentration at such a young age,” said Penny Yantis, Skeen’s high school dive coach.
Yantis trains the dive teams for the four Bellevue High Schools, as well as Mercer Island. Penny trained Skeen for four years, but had also seen her as a 9-year old, teaching herself to dive.
“What sets Maraea apart from her peers is a natural affinity for diving, as well as the focus and athleticism,” Yantis said.
Skeen did have her challenges. The biggest hurdle she faced as a high school athlete was an inconsistent approach.
“The lead up to the actual jump makes or breaks the dive,” Yantis said. “If the walk, the jump, the arms and the body movement isn’t synchronized, the entire dive will be affected.”
Always the underdog
Economics were also a challenge.
“I was a penny pincher,” said Terry, Skeen’s mother. “With five kids, the first child never even had a new pair of shoes. By the time Maraea developed into swimming, we couldn’t invest in her the way we would have liked.”
While other elite divers at the high school level trained daily at private clubs, Skeen attended only once a week.
“Driving to Federal Way and managing the house was a juggle,” Terry said.
She was also dubious her daughter’s passion would yield long-term results.
“I wasn’t thinking about college tuition or a scholarship,” she admitted.
Although three of the four children had gone on to attend Brigham Young University, none had been eligible for a scholarship. Skeen’s older sister had briefly practiced with the dive team, but ultimately decided grades came first.
That didn’t deter Maraea. Every day after attending the Running Start college preparatory program at then-Bellevue Community College, she trained with the dive team. Her placements were usually in the top 10, but rarely in the top three.
When Skeen arrived at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, all of that changed.
Skeen was suddenly beating the young women who had placed above her in previous years. She attributes this to the training and coaching staff at UNLV. Yantis said she believes it was something more.
“When Maraea was doing a little club diving, she was competing with kids who were working out year round and working at the elite club level,” Yantis said. “At college, they are all training about the same, and Maraea was no longer at a disadvantage. That’s where her hard work and athleticism pays off. Now, she has the opportunity to be equal.”
From underdog to the top
The statistics prove Yantis’ point. Skeen was the 2010-11 Mountain West Conference Scholar-athlete award. She’d received the top academic award for three semesters of the year. She was also the 2010-2011, spring academic All-Mountain West athlete. Her finishes are always in the top three, and in many cases she is No. 1.
“I think it surprised my coach a little,” Skeen said.
She has broken a number of diving records at UNLV, and as a sophomore was named captain of the dive team.
Skeen was recently home for a short break before she begins her master’s program at UNLV. With two years of eligibility left, UNLV has given her a full athletic scholarship, which pays for all tuition, room and board plus a stipend.
“It’s more than I ever imagined,” her mother said.
Skeen herself said she is a little surprised that she has achieved so much with her sports and academics. And she’s not done yet.
“I still have two years left to compete,” she said.
Sarah Gerdes, the author of this article, is a freelance writer. Comment at www.newcastle-news.com.