Rattled by the thought of leaping backwards off a platform perched three stories above water?
For diver Cheyenne Cousineau, that part is a breeze. Her only fear these days is overblowing the stakes of the biggest meet of her life — the FINA World Aquatics Championships.
“I'm trying not to make it a huge deal,” she said. “I'm trying not to psyche myself up.”
This will be difficult, of course. The Ohio State All-American and Temperance native will be surrounded by a who’s who cast later this month in Barcelona, including reigning Olympic gold-medal divers and American swimming stars like Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin.
Yet if any college student is equipped to handle the stage, it is Cousineau.
Her pairing with Murphy Bromberg in the women’s synchronized 10-meter platform event marks the latest peak in a career that has steadily climbed since she nearly lost her life in 2010.
After Cousineau recovered from a stroke caused by a blood clot in her brain, her father, Roland, said, “It's all gravy from here after that.” And the gravy has overflowed, from her Big Ten title in the 10-meter platform last year to her fourth-place finish at this season’s NCAA championship meet.
Cousineau, 21, is one of two area divers who will represent the United States in a meet surpassed in prestige only by the Olympics — a stage she plans to crash in 2016.
Cousineau will dive July 22 while former former Purdue All-American and St. John’s Jesuit graduate David Colturi will compete in the championships’ inaugural high diving event.
Colturi, 24, began cliff diving in 2011 after he was discovered working as a stunt performer at Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Ind. He has since made a living leaping into open waters from heights of 65-90 feet at speeds upward of 65 mph.
He is in his second full season on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series tour, which this year has already featured dives off St. Nicholas Tower in La Rochelle, France, and the roof of Copenhagen Opera House in Denmark.
Colturi finished fifth in the World Series last year and is seventh of 21 divers through three events this season. A former U.S. champion in the 10-meter platform, Colturi called the addition of a high diving to the world championships a “huge advancement for the sport.”
“It's been amazing traveling the globe competing on the Red Bull World Series, but being able to represent my country again in the sport I've always loved means the world to me,” he said in an email sent from Mescaline, Italy, where he will bound off a 27-meter platform at a 13th-century castle Sunday. “The outlook for FINA looks great, and the possibility of high diving becoming an Olympic event is extremely exciting.”
Cousineau, meanwhile, left Tuesday for a brief training camp in Mallorca, Spain, with the national team. Her confidence is high after a month of uninterrupted training — a luxury not always afforded those in this sport.
Cousineau pulled out of two lead-up events to the world trials with a strained abdomen, but returned in usual form to qualify. Cousineau and Bromberg, a Duke-bound high school senior who competes for Ohio State’s club team, won the platform title with a score of 595.23 points over two lists of dives.
Still, though the pair dusted the next-closest challengers at trials by more than 70 points, they are braced for the steep increase in competition.
“Everyone goes to the [world championships] with the intention of trying to get a medal,” said Cousineau, a fourth-year psychology major at OSU. “And I think if, in the back of your head you're not there expecting to get a medal, you’re not giving yourself every chance you can. But realistically, I think I would be very happy making the finals as a team. [Bromberg] and I have been together for about a year now, and this is our first international meet together. Some of these girls have been training for years, been to two or three Olympics together.”
If those close to her have learned anything, though, she is not to be ruled out. Cousineau has defied the odds before.
“It really is just a huge miracle and blessing that she didn't have physical damage from the stroke,” said her mother, Diane, who will attend the world championships along with her husband and Cousineau’s brother, grandmother, and aunt. “It is kind of mind-blowing [when] you think of it. We look at each thing she does, it doesn't really matter where she places or if she medals or doesn't medal. We just enjoy it as it goes. We're just amazed.”