CONCORD — It’s easy to lump swimming and diving together at the high school level. The two sports practice together and compete at the same meets.
But the skill set needed for each is starkly different. Diving requires a steely focus and technical precision, while swimming is more often associated with physical strength and endurance.
That’s why extremely few high school athletes compete in both sports. Livy Poulin, a senior at Concord-Carlisle High School, not only has competed on the swimming and diving teams throughout her high school career, but she earned state accolades in both last year.
She won her third straight Division 1 state champion in 1-meter diving, and was part of a Concord-Carlisle quartet that placed second in the 200 medley relay.
“That’s crazy. She’s amazing,” said one of Poulin’s teammates, junior Melissa Jiang. “She’s better than me at swimming and obviously at diving. I don’t know how she does it.”
Poulin, who will be diving at Columbia University next year, started swimming when she was 10, and added diving a few years later when she tried it out at the Heritage Club in Concord. She drew on its similarities to her previous sport: gymnastics.
“It was similar in some ways and very different in other ways,” she said. “Yes, you flip and twist and all that stuff, but riding the board is so different. Having to land headfirst was really hard for me at first, because in gymnastics you always land on your feet.”
One of the biggest challenges for a dual-pool athlete such as Poulin is finding enough hours in the week to practice both disciplines. Athletes who either swim or dive practice six times per week. Poulin splits her time between the two groups, both of which practice in the Concord-Carlisle fitness facility, the Beede Center, — at the same time.
Poulin said she enjoys the task of focusing on both sports in the same season.
“Swimming is a lot more physical strength, and for diving, at least for me, it’s a lot more mental,” she said. “I like balancing it a lot. It’s fun. It’s challenging myself in different aspects.”
The balancing act presents some logistical problems, such as forcing her to rush between events at some meets.
The coach of Concord-Carlisle’s boys’ and girls’ teams, Matt Goldberg, said Poulin is the latest in a line of a “surprising little tradition” of swimmer/diver combos in the Patriots’ program.
“Meghan O’Brien was a four-year state champion, and Livy came in and took over as state champion after that,” Goldberg said of Poulin, who will be going for her fourth straight diving title this season.
He said O’Brien’s brother, Sean O’Brien, competed in both sports as well, in addition to past Patriots Luke Hennessy, Luke Bagnaschi, and others before Goldberg joined the program in 2002.
“It’s happened a lot here in Concord, which is unusual,” Goldberg said.
This year, there’s a member of the boys’ team trying his hand at the double — sophomore Charlie Reichle. He was the state champion diver last year, but didn’t qualify as a swimmer.
The Patriots’ girls squad enjoyed a lot of team success last year, thanks to a strong group of sophomores who are looking to improve even more this winter.
At the state meet, Jiang was part of Poulin’s second-place relay team; she also placed eighth in the 50 freestyle, and 18th in the 100 butterfly. This year, she’s focused on cracking the top five at states, Jiang said.
Hailey Beyer, another junior, placed 13th in both the 100 backstroke and the 200 IM. This year, she has her sights set on the school record for the IM (she’s two seconds off), and a backstroke time under a minute.
“Something about being in the water makes me feel good,” Jiang said. “It’s kind of a way to relax and de-stress from everything at school. Also, I think it helps with my time management.”
Poulin found similar advantages when she started swimming back in elementary school.
“I hated it at first, because I didn’t know any of the strokes or anything. But then I really liked working out, and kind of the pain of it. And a lot of my friends were doing it in the summer. It was just what you did, swim team.”
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.