Laura Wilkinson was first woman to have won three major diving world titles, including the Olympic gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games. She was 22 then. Now she's 43, a mother of four, and 13 years post-retirement—and she just qualified for this weekend's women's platform finals in the U.S. Olympic trials.
"I never thought I would get to come back and dive again after I retired 13 years ago," she told NBC Sports. "So this is really a gift, every dive is a gift. I love doing it and this is really special."
When Wilkinson took home the gold from the Sydney Olympics, she was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in platform diving in 36 years. No U.S. woman has medaled in the Olympic sport since then. Against all odds, Wilkinson is looking for another medal shot in what will be her fourth Olympic games, if she makes the team.
Wilkinson explained on TODAY, "When you feel called to do something and you're passionate about it, you just want to be all in. It's the drive, it's the love, and I love that my kids get to watch me do this, not just by telling them how to live their lives. But they're seeing me, the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to actually get there."
Wilkinson underwent surgery on her spine in 2018, a procedure that has enabled her to return to the sport that she loves.
"I'm kind of just surprised I'm doing it, honestly," Wilkinson told TODAY. "When I retired at 30 I was old back then, so this whole journey has just been a crazy, fun road."
At 43, Wilkinson is not ancient by any means, but competitive physical sports are a young person's game. Even athletes in their 30s are considered past their prime, so even qualifying for Olympic trial finals is an impressive feat.
"It's never going to be an easy road," Wilkinson said, "but that's what makes the journey worth it. When you get to the other side, whether you achieve all your goals and your dreams or you don't, going through all of that, it refines you as a person, it's walking through that fire, and you become better in that process."
Dara Torres made Olympic history in 2008, winning three silver medals in swimming at age 41. The oldest Olympic gold medalist ever was Sweden's Oscar Swahn, who took home the gold medal in shooting at age 64, and still competed in the Olympics at age 72.
While aging inarguably makes physical competition harder, athletes like Wilkinson prove that you don't have to stop competing just because you reach a certain date on a calendar. Congrats and kudos to her for chasing her Olympic dreams for the fourth time, and for showing the world what's possible with dedication, perseverance, and support.
Watch her interview with Houston's KCRP 2 the day before she qualified for the finals, which take place on Sunday evening.
Diver Laura Wilkinson ready to go for gold www.youtube.com
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