Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taking flying leaps is in diver's blood

Lure of pool pulls McLean back on board

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Poised on a platform 10 metres above the shimmering water of Pan Am Pool, Cam McLean's diving career is about to come full circle.

He grew up diving there, flying off the springboard or the platform when he was just a boy. That pool is where he learned how to twist and roll through the air, and how to pierce the water just so. It's where he learned the skills that earned him a full scholarship to Texas A&M University, where he started his college career six years ago.

Now, Pan Am is where McLean is set to continue his comeback in the diving world, as Winnipeg gears up to host the summer senior national championships.

Starting on Friday, 57 competitors will descend on Pan Am, including 2012 Olympians Jennifer Abel, Meaghan Benfeito, Roseline Fillion, Francois Imbeau-Dulac and Riley McCormick. The best performers will earn a spot on Canada's 2014 Commonwealth Games team.

But for McLean, in just his second competition in years, the pressure is lighter.

"I'm here to work and have fun," he said on Tuesday.

It's been a long road to get to this point. Once, McLean was one of Canada's most talented junior divers, a fixture on the elite national scene. "He was spectacularly talented," said Manitoba diving coach Dallas Ludwick, one of the national team coaches, as she recalled a young man known for making difficult leaps -- though maybe, she grinned, not always with the most graceful execution.

In 2010, McLean's diving career suffered a major setback, in the form of a difficult shoulder surgery. The shoulder took a long time to heal, and forced him to take a hiatus from the sport. For a while, he thought he might never return. But after making some tweaks to his training routine -- "smarter, not necessarily harder" -- he did: McLean returned to competition in March at the winter nationals in Saskatoon.

Now, back home in Manitoba, he's looking forward to making a comeback bid.

"There's a little bit of unfinished business, I think," he said. "I don't think I reached my full potential. To have a break from diving, when I was so serious for so long, and coming back just to do it for myself... I'm having a blast."

He's not the only one looking forward to diving at home. Winnipeg's Aimee Harrison is also angling to make a big splash -- well, figuratively speaking -- this weekend. She's done it in this pool before.

In March 2013, Harrison was a relative unknown on the Canadian scene, with only a few years of experience in the sport. But when Pan Am hosted the winter nationals that month, Harrison's strong performance wowed the judges. She won a fourth-place finish and a spot on the national team; three months later, she did even better, placing third at the summer championship.

Now, Harrison -- who just wrapped up her second year at the University of Hawaii -- is looking to show Canada her breakout year was no fluke. "This year is more of a test, there's a lot more pressure on me, to see if I can handle it," she said. "I would just like to perform at the best of my ability. I'd love to make national team again this year, and travel with them... they've taught me a lot."

This championship could be a key test in the young diver's career, coach Ludwick agreed.

"Last year was such a surprise and a whirlwind," the coach said. "This year, she definitely puts more pressure on herself. I can see it in her. So this will be a big learning year for her... everyone's watching you now, whereas it's always fun to be the dark horse."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2014 C8

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