The Paper photo by Lori Poteet 
Grace Walker qualified for the AT&T National Championships in Moultrie, Ga. in the Platform event.
The Paper photo by Lori Poteet
Grace Walker qualified for the AT&T National Championships in Moultrie, Ga. in the Platform event.

She’s been diving for two years, and is already on track to the world stage – the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Grace Walker is a 13-year-old diver who has gone to Crawfordsville Middle School the past two years and has opted for a different route this upcoming school year. She was invited to join the RipFest Diving Club’s Elite Team in July and will be homeschooling while she trains with some of the world’s best diving coaches.

Her story begins the summer before sixth grade when her guidance counselor and eventual middle school diving coach, Donna Wilson, suggested the sport of diving.

“She asked me to dive and I just fell in love with it,” Walker said.

Walker took gymnastics for 10 years – so basically her whole life – before climbing up the diving stand ladder. She loved the heights and “new thrills.”

Crawfordsville High School’s diving coach Dave Whitehead started with Walker the summer before sixth grade and saw talent immediately.

“She’s got the potential to go to Nationals and Worlds and maybe even further,” Whitehead had told Walker’s mother, Jodi Walker, at practice one day.

During her first middle school season, she came within three points of Crawfordsville’s diving record.

“For something she had never done before, I noticed extraordinary body awareness,” Whitehead said. “I’m thinking, ‘This girls is going to be something.’”

He attributed her awareness to gymnastics.

“Her gymnastics training is what prepared her for diving,” he said. “That taught her body awareness. Just about any place through the dive, she knew where she was at. She knew how to get in and out of positions.”

By the second season, she blew away the record by 40 points. She holds the Crawfordsville, County and Crawfordsville Aquatic Center record at 170.5 as a seventh grader.

Her success continued this summer as part of RipFest Diving Club. RipFest is headquartered in Fishers, Ind. and maintains five different satellite locations. She had been training with Ian O’Rourke at the Purdue site after attending a summer and winter camp with the club.

Her first exposure was the summer camp.

“I really like really intense training and that’s the kind of thing I got there and it was a blast,” Walker said.

From last summer to this summer has been the year of a lifetime for Walker. She qualified for USA Diving’s Junior Region 6 Championship at the end of April. She went on to qualify for the National Zone C Meet at the University of Michigan in July. There, she placed eighth in the 14-15 Girls Platform event and stamped her ticket to the Nationals in August.

After the zone meet, Walker was invited to train with the Elite Team at RipFest in Fishers.

John Wingfield is the head diving coach at RipFest and is one of the four coaches instructing the Elite Team.

Similar to Whitehead, body awareness was the main thing Wingfield noticed.

“She has good awareness of how her body works and makes connections pretty rapidly,” Wingfield said. “She is a talented young lady.”

This new level of training for Walker means being coached by the 2008 Olympic diving head coach. He has also coached multiple Olympic divers in the 2016 Rio Olympics, including David Boudia and Steele Johnson, who are competing in the 10-meter synchronized diving event today at 3 p.m.

“He’s just so good and so full of knowledge,” she said of Coach Wingfield. “He doesn’t just coach you, he coaches you at a personal level where he sits down with you and teaches you.”

Walker joined 11 other divers on the Elite Team and is one of the youngest of the group.

“They are like a little family because you are with them so much,” she said. “It’s really cool to see the dynamics and to be welcomed in there.”

The new level also means an hour-and-a-half commute to RipFest for Grace and her parents, John and Jodi. But the distance is nothing compared to what some of the other kids do – they simply move to the RipFest Village.

“It’s just a great experience and it’s a great opportunity,” Jodi Walker said. “There are kids that come from all over the country to stay with him and she has it an hour-and-a-half away.”

Typically, Grace said she sleeps during the commute. She will be starting online school soon instead of returning to Crawfordsville Middle School.

“We just want to give her the opportunity to develop this and put her in a position to let it grow and see what happens,” her father, John Walker, said.

Wingfield and the other three coaches for the RipFest Elite Team are already looking ahead to 2020.

“After these Olympic games, there’s about 1400 some days until the next Olympics,” Wingfield said. “Our goal is to develop these kids at the highest level we can within that time period and try to get them on the international team to give them some competition and really learn the ropes, so to speak.”

Unfortunately, Walker sprained her wrist at Nationals practice last week in Moultrie, Ga. which cut off her season early. But that was her favorite meet she has been to so far.

“Nationals was by far the coolest because it was a small town like Crawfordsville, so it was homey and welcoming,” she said.

Walker will continue making the hour-and-a-half drive to Fishers, Ind. with her mom to join her other family at RipFest.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had.”