By Connie Wardman, M.A., SDLT (she|her)

In an effort to increase DEI in USA and Olympic Diving, two former diving stars, now current leaders in the diving community – Lee Michaud and Diane Maiese, SDL – have come together to open the pool for underserved communities, especially those of color.

As President of USA Diving, Lee Michaud is himself a former champion diver. Learning to dive at age nine, he became a four-time NCAA All-American diver while at the University of Michigan; he was also a five-time member of the USA National Diving Team and a member of the diving team at the 1991 Pan American Games.

Facing a much needed reorganization almost three years ago, USA Diving reached out to Michaud to lead it. A senior career transportation executive known for his skills in change management and redesign, organizational and people development and building strategic partnerships and alliances plus his ongoing passion for diving, as the new CEO he brought the struggling organization the healthy balance of business management and sport performance it needed.

The mission of USA Diving is to build the sport of diving to achieve Olympic success through providing a safe environment for its members and diving community as a whole. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that reports to the Olympic Committee and to Congress, it selects, conditions and trains teams to represent the United States in major diving events: those include the Olympic Games, World Championships, and the FINA Diving World Cup. Other well-known events include the USA Diving National Championships. The organization also certifies diving judges based on the results of a rigorous FINA exam.

It takes about 10-12 years to train an Olympic diver. Like Lee, many of their athletes begin diving as youths in junior programs held in facilities located in U.S. cities nationwide. Some move on to the senior level, becoming top national and international competitive divers. But like many competitive sports, diving can be very expensive. And with only 61 clubs located in less than 40 cities, access is limited to those who can afford to reach them and pay for the training, equipment, and other assorted costs. As a result, diving is predominantly a white sport.

There has been a diving outlier over the years, however: history-making diver, Compete Sports Diversity member, Diane Maiese, SDL.

A four-time NCAA All American diver, Diane Maiese is the first Black woman to ever win an NCAA Championship in diving; she’s also the first Division One diving coach and the first to become a FINA certified international judge.

She won her NCAA diving championships more than 20 years ago … 20+ years later she’s still the only person of color to have accomplished any of her firsts listed above, something she’s happy to change. “I do not,” says Diane, “want to be the only one. I am dedicated to providing access to the sport of diving to everyone.”

In the meantime, Maiese, who has never really thought about herself based on the color of her skin or as some pioneer out to break barriers, has continued successfully coaching divers and winning honors as the VISAA Diving Coach of the Year for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022, and the five-time Atlantic 10 Diving Coach of the Year. Instead, she’s seen herself more through all the ways she interacts with people on a daily basis, as a diving coach, mother, teacher and friend.

One of the reasons Maiese is so determined to provide access to diving through diversity, inclusion and equality/equity is because she realizes how lucky her life’s circumstances have been. She wasn’t born into a wealthy Black family that was able to afford her the access, training fees, athletic gear and more to become a winning diver and coach. She considers herself very lucky to have been adopted by a white family with money who lovingly provided all that for her.

Since accessibility, location and cost are the barriers to implementing DEI in the diving world, Diane and a couple of parents founded DiveRVA, a non-profit organization located in Richmond, Virginia to address that. As its owner and CEO, she envisions it as a catalyst for positive change founded on the necessary values of support, empowerment, inclusion and progress to fuel her vision for building a diving facility there.

In addition to her work at DiveRVA, Maiese is also touring various cities with pool facilities to see if they fit the Olympic venue requirements for diving as well as gyms for dry diving practice for ages seven and under that can act as feeder programs. The combination of these two programs is not only wonderful for a city’s youth of various ages, they also become an important draw for sports tourism.In November Diane combined attendance at the Compete Sports Diversity Summit on Women in Sports and Events held at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona with a tour of ASU’s diving facility.

Photo Credit: Compete Sports Diversity