March 8, 2005
They say sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and that statement was never more true then when a diver from the University of Texas, with a year of eligibility remaining, sent an e-mail to the George Washington University swimming and diving program and asked if it could use an Olympic diver, fresh from competing in Athens, on its team this season.
After verifying the call wasn't some kind of cruel joke, GW head swimming coach Dan Rhinehart made the necessary arrangements and on August 31 welcomed Katura Horton-Perinchief to the team.
Since her arrival at GW, Katura has dominated the Atlantic 10 Conference. She was named the 2005 Atlantic 10 Most Outstanding Diver after winning conference titles in both the one-meter and three-meter events. Katura also broke the conference record this season in the one-meter and has reset the GW record in both the one-meter and three-meter dives. Along with earning all-conference in the two events, she also was named Atlantic 10 Academic All-Conference.
But this Olympic qualifier and former All-Big 12 diver has her sights set a little bit higher than her A-10 titles. Already qualified for Zones, held March 10-13 in at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, Katura is poised to become just the second GW diver (Bobbie Ferraro '90) to ever compete at Nationals.
So how did this Bermuda-born athlete find her way to Washington, D.C.? You could say it all started with some reckless child play. "As a little kid in Bermuda, as with a lot of little kids, even today, I'd dive off bridges, dive off boats, dive off cliffs...things like that. "It's kind of like the `island life' type-thing," Horton-Perinchief said. "And I had a gymnastics background. The two sports are very similar."
Although she developed her early skills mostly in Bermuda, at the age of three her parents' educational pursuit relocated the family to Toronto, Canada. Horton-Perinchief has maintained dual-citizenship ever since.
Diving lessons, followed by competition in Toronto, soon began for Katura. "I competed for the first time when I was seven or eight," she said. "I quickly advanced to compete as an elite diver by nine (years old)."
Katura made the Canadian Junior Team when she was just 13 years old, competing until 18, and had become one of the youngest winners of provincials (equivalent to States) ever. After successful performances at Can-Am-Mex Championships, the Speedo Cup and the Cuba Cup, she had her choice of schools when it came time for college.
"I was looking at Southern California, Duke, Columbia, Florida and Texas," Katura said. "I picked Texas because, well, one was the climate and the other was Matt Scoggins."
Scoggins, 11th year head diving coach at Texas, is internationally recognized as one of the top coaches in the world. The four-time women's and two-time men's NCAA Diving Coach of the Year has served as an assistant coach on the United States Olympic team. Along with Katura, Scoggins has recruited, trained and developed a number of Olympic divers including gold-medal winners Laura Wilkinson and Verya Ilyina.
"He's one of the best coaches in the nation...and I knew (when choosing a college) I was going to be training for the Olympics." Horton-Perinchief said.
So after three seasons at Texas under Scoggins, Horton-Perinchief was ready to make her dream come true and compete in the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Greece. One problem. Which country should she represent?
"At that point, I was sort of finding myself and kind of going back to my roots. I spent a lot of time in Bermuda and I liked the fact that I was going to be representing (it) because they send maybe 10 athletes to the Olympics," she said.
The Horton-Perinchief family also has deep roots in the Bermudian athletic community. Her uncle had served as minister for youth sport and recreation (and currently is the minister for labor and foreign affairs) and her mother was a member of the country's national softball team. "(The whole country) knows me and has been following my career since I was a little girl. It was a way to put Bermuda on the map," she added.
As expected, competition to qualify for the 2004 Summer Olympics was fierce. The International Olympic Committee had reduced the number of divers competing in the games to just 34. At World Cup competition (the preliminary meet to qualify for the Olympics), Horton-Perinchief placed 34th. But with some debate about whether or not to include synchronized divers as part of the 34 advancing to the Games, Horton-Perinchief did not officially receive the Olympic nod until two weeks before the start of the Games.
"It was very, very rough. The added pressure, the uncertainty. I didn't know if I was going. You train your entire life for (this opportunity)," she said. "I was ecstatic when I found out I was going, but at the same time I was not mentally prepared. They didn't even have a plane ticket for me at that point. It was a big old mess."
Horton-Perinchief used what was left of her time before the Olympics to return to Texas and train with Coach Scoggins. After one week, it was off to Athens.
"When I arrived at the (Olympic) Village I was in awe of all these superstars walking around." Horton-Perinchief was even more shocked when, while waiting in an office in Athens to process some paper work, she noticed she was sitting right next to Venus Williams. "We're sitting there chatting and I'm (thinking) `I'm like a nobody compared to you'."
Horton-Perinchief may have been physically ready to compete against the world's best, but she was still an amateur as far as experience. And being randomly selected to dive first overall didn't help matters. "I didn't dive well. I did okay." She said. "It was nerve-wracking to be first. I didn't even know the format. In my first dive, I didn't even wait for my name (to be announced). I just went."
Although she did not advance to the next round, Horton-Perinchief savored the experience of a lifetime. "Walking on the pool deck and waving at the people was one of my biggest memories from the Olympics," she said. "Same with opening ceremonies. They call your name and its like `whoa'." On the last day of the Games, Horton-Perinchief carried her country's flag during the closing ceremonies.
When she returned from Athens, she hit another set of crossroads. Prior to the Games, she earned her degree from Texas in French language and literature after only three years. Although she had a fourth year of eligibility remaining and an eye on the Olympics in 2008, Horton-Perinchief's top priority was graduate school to study public health.
"GW has a phenomenal public health program. I had a year of eligibility left and I figured why not use it. It was either going to be a year off or a year of collegiate competition. I'm going to be diving anyway, so I might as well represent someone."
Horton-Perinchief already had a connection to the GW athletic program. Although it played no role in her decision to attend the University, her uncle, Randy Horton, served as the women's head soccer coach in 1982.
To say Horton-Perinchief was warmly welcomed to the GW swimming and diving program is like saying Boston was happy its Red Sox won the World Series.
"Everyone was phenomenally excited," GW head diving coach Krista Irish said. "It was a coup of sorts to get an athlete of her caliber for a year. So we were thrilled about it. It's not something this program has seen for diving. She's one of the best divers that we could possible get."
But before Horton-Perinchief could start rewriting GW's record books, she needed to get situated at the University and the city of Washington, D.C.
"It's definitely different. At Texas I never really realized how sheltered I was. When we went on the road we would take tutors with us," she said.
"(At GW) it's really different. I had to do all of that planning stuff by myself. I had to plan (classes) around practice. I had to get my own books. It was a big transition. At Texas, all we were really responsible for was diving and keeping our grades up. I didn't have to register by myself. I didn't even have to apply to graduate school by myself."
Once the swimming and diving season got under way, Horton-Perinchief was able to adjust smoothly to the new program and has continued to work steadily towards her goal of competing in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
"It's not that she's holding her own and winning meets," Irish said. "She's turning out some of the best performances of her career. We look at her scores and see that she's getting better. It's not just about maintaining this year." As Horton-Perinchief continues to work on her dives in preparation for the Olympics, she thrives on the excitement of competing in the A-10 and helping her team. "I get really excited for meets, any meets. I don't sleep at night (before a meet). Our team is really hard working. If I'm expected to go in and win, they should be able to count on it."
"Her perspective and her attitude are very positive, very open," Irish said. "For all of her accomplishments, she's extremely humble. The other athletes love having her on the team, not just because we can win with her, but because she promotes everything you could want to have on your team."
After Horton-Perinchief earns her master's degree at GW (in either December 2005 or May 2006) she'll face another set of crossroads. "I want to go to medical school. But I also want to go to Beijing in '08. We're going to see. It's going to be a life decision. I've kind of had a taste for the Olympics. I want to go back. But if I get into medical school, that's obviously going to be my number one focus."
Regardless of which direction Horton-Perinchief decides to take at that point, her contribution and influence at George Washington will surely benefit the University for years to come.
- GW -
Former All-Big 12 and Current All-Atlantic 10 Diver Katura Horton-Perinchief