One of the age-old sociological questions centers on whether individuals are born with certain characteristics or if their environment dictates their development. Which ever the case may be, Carrie McCambridge has benefited from both nature and nurture on her path to becoming one of the Big Ten's preeminent divers. After sweeping the diving events at the 2004 Big Ten Women's Championships in February, then-sophomore McCambridge was named both the Diver of the Championships and the Big Ten Diver of the Year. For McCambridge, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that she would become a diver, but she took her time getting there. "My parents knew eventually I would (become a diver), it just took a little longer than they expected." McCambridge's mother, Jill, was a diver at the University of Cincinnati and an alternate on the 1992 Olympic team. Instead of immediately following in her mother's footsteps Carrie took first to gymnastics, but at the age of twelve she traded in her leotard for a bathing-suit and her diving career began.
With their daughter's new-found passion for diving and Jill's experience and expertise, Jill and John McCambridge purchased Central Ohio Diving; then Columbus, Ohio's only diving school. While John had little familiarity with diving, he took to the sport immediately. "He's a physical therapist, so he understood the physics of diving, so it all made sense to him. It actually made him a really good coach," Carrie says of her father. She also learned early in her diving career that the mother-daughter relationship would not work poolside. "She only coached me a year before we realized that wasn't going to work. Any time she did coach me though, I always called her Jill. We left the coaching relationship at the pool and she was mom again as soon as we left."
With a family so focused on diving, it would have been easy for McCambridge to feel pressure to succeed in the sport, but she knew her parents support wasn't tied to her diving career. "I knew when they bought the school that it wasn't as if they bought something that they were underqualified for or that they only did it for me.
My mom has so much knowledge and she is a really good coach." Despite her mother's knowledge, and success, Carrie, the only diver of the family's four children, never felt that she had to live up to what her mother had accomplished. "She was always incredibly supportive of everything I was doing. There was never any bad pressure, but it definitely motivated me." With her mother's genes and her personal dreams, it shouldn't be a surprise that just three years after taking up the sport, McCambridge found herself with her mother by her side in the Czech Republic to compete for the Junior World Diving Championship.
"The Czech Republic is the best place that I have ever been. It was such a different culture; I met people from all over the world and I have kept in touch with some of them." The excitement of the trip was not limited to the sights she saw or the people she met. Just a few days after turning fifteen, in her first international competition, Carrie McCambridge was Junior World Champion on the three-meter board. "It was one of the best experiences of my life. It was amazing. I still don't think that it has ever hit me." On the heels of her world championship, Carrie returned to Olentangy High School where she won three one-meter state championships, but success was not the only constant in McCambridge's diving career, her family was also always present. With her mother serving as the swim team's diving coach, McCambridge again had to adapt to the role of being both athlete and daughter. "She never would talk about diving at the dinner table or anything. We knew it was important to have an outlet, some place to go and not be coached."
After graduating, McCambridge became a student-athlete at Purdue University, and picked up right where she had left off in high school. After winning four of her first five events, her successes tapered off to what McCambridge felt were personally disappointing performances at the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Regional meet, even though she set Purdue scoring records at both events. Coming off her freshman year, McCambridge intensified her off-season regimen to the point where it was not unusual for her to spend five hours a day in the pool. "After the last day of the season she picked up her training and didn't stop until this season," Purdue diving coach Wenbo Chen said of McCambridge last year. "She was totally different physically and mentally this season and brought her diving to the next level."
Despite a successful regular season her sophomore year, placing first in eight of her 14 events, McCambridge was extremely anxious for the Big Ten Championships in 2004. "I was a lot more nervous for Big Tens than for the World Championships. I was 15 and I really didn't understand the magnitude of the event that was going on. I think when you get older you feel the pressure and you feel the expectations that are put on you." Pressure and expectations aside, McCambridge became only the third female diver to sweep the three diving disciplines, one-meter, three-meter, and platform, at the Big Ten Championships since the platform was first incorporated into the event in 1988.
McCambridge became not only the first Purdue diver to ever win a conference title, but she also set school records in all three events and she recorded the conference mark off of the one-meter springboard. Just as she was for her daughter's world championship, Jill McCambridge was in Minnesota to share Carrie's Big Ten titles as well. "Mom came to Minneapolis, and actually it was kind of last minute, but I'm so glad she came!" Unlike her world championship, which she admits was unexpected; McCambridge saw her Big Ten championships as a testament to the hard work and sacrifices she made in the off season. "The world championship was a big surprise, it came from out of nowhere, but my freshman year I had such a disappointing Big Tens, that last year was even more rewarding in the fact that I had worked so hard for it. I felt like I finally saw some success from the work I put in."
After the Big Ten Championships, the next major meet for McCambridge was the NCAA Championships. Having qualified for all three events, McCambridge earned an All-America honors by finishing 12th off the three-meter springboard, but finished 18th off the platform and 34th off the one-meter. After so much success leading up to this event, McCambridge found her NCAA results difficult to stomach. "It was really frustrating. I definitely peaked at Big Tens. I was having some muscle problems at the NCAAs and I just was not on the top of my game. I was disappointed."
After the disappointment of the NCAA meet, again McCambridge refocused on a bigger goal. With the Olympics taking place in Athens, Greece in August, she had four months to prepare for the U.S. Team trials. Knowing that she had just narrowly qualified for the trials, McCambridge, who was 19 at the time, began working towards her new goal and took a vital piece of motherly advice to heart. "My mom just said to have fun and to enjoy it. I really trained hard the few months before trials. No one expected me to do well. I barely snuck into the trials. So, I put the work in and whatever was going to happen was going to happen." What did happen was something that very few people, including Carrie, had expected. McCambridge finished 12th in the Olympic team trials and was the second youngest diver to make the finals. Unlike in swimming, where teenage athletes often excel at the highest levels of competition, elite divers tend to be in their mid-20s. "I knew it was virtually impossible for me to make the Olympic team. I didn't have the degree of difficulty some of the other girls had, or the international experience that they wanted on the team. So I was really just going into it to dive my best, and to have fun. And it turned out a lot better than I or really anyone had expected." Even though she did not qualify for the Olympic team, McCambridge feels that what she learned from the experience will be invaluable as her career continues.
Coming into this season McCambridge has naturally resumed her role as a leader of the diving team. "(Last season) she became a role model for the divers; on the pool deck, in the classroom, she brought the whole team up," Chen said.
So far this season, the Purdue women's swimming and diving team has won four competitions, and McCambridge has won five of her eight events thus far, finishing second in the other three, and earning two Big Ten Diver of the Week honors. McCambridge says that this year's group of divers is very special. "Our team is an up and coming team. We are a team that has been able to bring in some really good talent. Amanda Miller, who is a sophomore, made NCAAs last year and she is diving really well this season. She pushes me every day in practice. I think she will do big things this year." The Purdue women's swimming and diving team is currently ranked 20th in the country and resumes competition on January 2nd at the Florida International Invitational.
"I am really up in the air about how diving will fit into my life after college. A lot of it will depend on how I am diving at the time and how my body is holding up." While McCambridge is still unsure where she hopes her diving career will take her after her days at Purdue are over, there is no doubt that where ever the sport leads her, her family will be right there with her.