For most athletes, finishing 29th out of 30 competitors would be a forgettable experience. But for diver Katie Griffin, reminiscing about last April's Junior Olympic East National Championships evokes a shy smile and a faraway look.
The trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a diving meet turned into four days of quality time spent with her father, time that Griffin will cherish forever. Two months later, her father, Tony Griffin, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.
"I was so glad me and my dad had that time together," said Griffin, a Seton Keough junior. "He was so willing to do anything to make me happy. We rented a convertible and drove to the beach. We walked around, and he had a new video camera. He was so happy."
Her father's support made the rough day at the pool easier to bear. Still, Griffin hadn't even expected to qualify for that spring national event after moving up to the 16-18 age group, and, at first, she did not make the cut.
Finishing seventh in the qualifying meet, she missed the sixth and final advancing spot by two points. The Ellicott City resident chalked up the near miss to experience, but then her luck changed. The sixth qualifier pulled out with a shoulder injury and, just four days before the spring national meet, Griffin got the call that the spot was hers.
Twice before, Griffin had been to spring nationals, but those were in Bloomington, Ind., and her parents weren't able to go. This time, she was thrilled to be headed to Florida with her father.
As she prepares to defend her Eastern Interscholastic High School Diving Championships crown Saturday at LaSalle University, Griffin carries her father's spirit with her.
"He was the type of guy who made me feel, even if I did bad, it was OK," said Griffin, 17. "Knowing that I do my best and I try, it's enough. People ask me all the time, even at my father's funeral, 'So you're the diver in the family. Are you going to the Olympics?'
"In a way, that bothered me, because it was almost as if they were saying my dad expected that of me, but I know he didn't. It's a good goal and great dream to have, but to come true, it's so hard. Only two people in the whole entire country make the Olympic team. At spring nationals, I worked as hard as I could and he was so proud."
But don't think Griffin doesn't want to go as far as she can in the sport.
Last month, she finished third on the one-meter board at a high school invitational at the University of Delaware.
She spends 4 1/2 hours three or four days a week at the UMBC pool, honing her skills with UMBC and Retriever Diving Club coach Vic Corbin.
Griffin has had a college-caliber list of dives for three years, said Corbin. Now she's fine-tuning her front, back, reverse, inward and twisting dives, both on the one- and three-meter boards.
"She just needs to bring them up a notch," he said. "We're working now to get her stronger. A lot of what she'll have to do as she goes up the line takes more strength."
This week, Griffin is focused on getting her dives in order for a run at All-America status at the Eastern Interscholastic meet.
And order does make a difference. She found that out the hard way last year.
Although she scored enough points last year to qualify for All-America status, she didn't do her dives in the right order. Griffin needed a back dive in the first nine rounds, but she saved them for her last two dives. In their first foray into high school diving, neither Griffin nor Corbin realized the mistake.
"I'm going after it this year," said Griffin. "Two of the girls I beat at that meet made it. It was disappointing, but there was nothing I could do about it."
Defending her Eastern Interscholastic crown means a lot to Griffin because it's one of the few times she can compete for her school.
She is a member of the Gators swimming team, but the girls private schools league, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, does not offer diving.
The boys Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association allows girls enrolled at coed member schools to participate, but because Seton Keough is an all-girls school, it is not a member of the MIAA. Non-members may not compete in MIAA events.
Griffin doesn't let that restriction get her down. The 3.5 student and avid Beanie Baby collector plans to dive in college, then see where she can go.
Corbin said Griffin's future in the sport is "basically unlimited." Diving six days a week in a college program should speed her progress along, he said.