Friday, April 25, 2014
Alone at the end of a diving board, Nick Jensen turns his back to the swimming pool and edges his heels out over space, so that only the balls of his feet remain on the board. He takes a breath.
Cheverus senior Nick Jensen talks with friends after winning the diving event in December at the Southwesterns North boys’ swim championships at Cape Elizabeth High School .
Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Cheverus diver Nick Jensen does a double somersault at the Southwesterns North championships. Jensen has “a lot of talent and a lot of determination,” said coach Mike Hartley.
If you look closely – in the stillness before Jensen bounces once, twice and then launches himself above the water, twisting and twirling before unfolding his lithe body and knifing through the surface – you might notice a 3-inch scar beneath his curly black chest hair.
“When people ask, I say it’s a product of my past,” Jensen said, “But it’s really because I cut myself.”
Jensen’s past also includes drug and alcohol abuse, a school suspension and 10 months in a residential treatment center in Hollis. What it doesn’t include is an opportunity to dive for a state championship.
On Monday that changes. The 17-year-old senior at Cheverus High School in Portland is one of a dozen divers competing in the Maine Principals’ Association Class A boys swimming and diving state meet at the University of Maine’s Stanley Wallace Pool.
Nobody in the state scored as high in a six-dive meet this winter as Jensen did in Cape Elizabeth in December. He won the recent Southwesterns North 11-dive title by more than 100 points.
“I’ve seen a lot of divers come and go in this state,” said Mike Bartley, who coaches Jensen and divers from three other high schools, as well as those at Bates College. “There’s no question in my mind that he would have been state champion four years in a row.”
Would have, Bartley believes, had Jensen set foot on a board at the state meet. Freshman year, the funeral of a favorite aunt took precedence. Sophomore year, Cheverus suspended him for drinking during school hours. Much of junior year he spent in rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.
“His actual time on diving boards probably doesn’t amount to a full year,” said Bartley, 69, who has been coaching his sport for half a century. “That’s what makes it even more remarkable. Nick is just scratching the surface. He’s got a lot of talent and a lot of determination.”
Lean, flexible and broad-shouldered at 5-foot-8½, Jensen is perfectly proportioned to dive, Bartley said, pointing out the distance from hips to feet and hips to head.
“They’re almost equal, and that makes him a natural spinner,” Bartley said. “Plus, he takes direction well.”
Courage, intelligence and work ethic also play roles in a sport that requires its participants to stand alone, practically naked, on the edge of a board, nearly suspended in space, with every eye on the pool deck and in the balcony upon you.
“Physical fitness is part of it,” Jensen said, “but if I’m not there mentally, I can’t do the dive.”
When he was growing up in Kennebunk, Jensen’s first sport was gymnastics, which lasted into junior high. He considered wrestling in high school, but a friend at Cheverus who also dives, Lilly Lehto, suggested diving.
Jensen took to it immediately, nearly achieving state qualifying marks in his first meet. He also played football (wingback and safety) and sailed.
Freshman year was also when he started smoking pot. He had tried it as an eighth-grader but got caught, which is when he first cut himself. Self-injury, or self-harm, is the clinical term, which he learned later through therapy.
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