One day during a summer swimming session, Kenai Central High School swimming and diving coach Will Hubler told Rachel Knowles, then in fourth or fifth grade, to go take a leap -- and leap she did.
The one jump seven or eight years ago sparked a passion in Knowles that has launched the Kenai senior into the elite of Alaska's high school divers.
"She was a pool rat," Hubler said. "I just gave a her a little encouragement, and she bit on it. I just gave her a little carrot."
"I was one of the swimming lesson kids, and Will told me to jump off the diving board. One thing led to another," Knowles said.
Hubler's dare turned Knowles into a diving maniac. He invited her to dive during swimming lessons -- she was quick to take him up on that offer -- then she began coming to morning lap swims to use the boards if there weren't too many people using the lanes.
In diving, the 2001 Region III champion and third-place finisher at the state championships.
Kenai 11-dive record holder.
Member of Kenai girls soccer team with three straight state tournament appearances.
In the Classroom
Considering a major in the medical field or computer science next year in college.
Treasurer of Interact community service club.
Even though she didn't have any background in gymnastics, Knowles had not problem adding somersaults, flips and twists to her dives, though she said she's had to relearn some of those maneuvers to do them with the proper approach, rather than just running and jumping.
Hubler said that while Knowles didn't have a gymnastic background, she did benefit from a backyard trampoline.
"Most of the divers I've coached are either gymnasts, or they have a trampoline at home," Hubler said. "That's where she gets her power from."
From summers at the Kenai pool, Knowles went on to join the local U.S. Diving club. Hubler said that at her first meet, Knowles was the top diver in her age group.
That trend is continuing this year, though on a bigger stage, as Knowles has posted the top scores in Region III. She was third in the state last year after winning the Region III title and was considered for All-America status.
"My technique is a lot better," Knowles said of the stellar results she's been notching this season. "My mental approach to diving has changed -- it's matured. Mentally, I've improved a whole lot. My whole mental attitude has changed, and everything is so much better."
Knowles said the mental aspect of diving is the most difficult to master, but once a diver overcomes her anxieties, the physical part is easy to figure out.
"I'm starting my two and a halfs," Knowles said. "I'm really excited -- they freak me out, but it's a dive a need for regions and state.
"Diving isn't hard physically. It's hard mentally. But once you do a dive right for the first time, your confidence is right there. It's a real confidence booster."
Knowles said that confidence is one of the most important aspects of a good diver.
"You need a positive attitude more than anything," Knowles said. "With a positive attitude, you can keep your focus and your self confidence. If your attitude drops, your diving is going to plummet with it."
Knowles is happy to share her attitude and experience with her teammates, whether it be explaining a technique or encouraging someone to try a new dive.
"She's really coachable, and I use her as a coach," Hubler said. "I'll say something, and they say, 'Hey, listen to Rachel. She'll tell you.'"
Knowles' positive attitude carries over into the classroom, where she is doing well with a full course load, including a class at Kenai Peninsula College.
Knowles said her strongest subject is English, but she's hasn't decided on a course of study when she heads off to college next fall.
"I'm up in the air," Knowles said. "I'm looking toward the medical field, and also computer science."
Knowles said she began her college search last year, but is still in the search process. She said she intends to continue diving in college.
In the mean time, Knowles has set some immediate goals for herself in the Kenai pool. She already holds the Kenai 11-dive record, and she'd like to leave Kenai with the six-dive record as well.
"I'd like to rebreak my (11-dive) record, and hopefully break the other one," Knowles said. "I'd like to so it will be a while before it's broken again."
Then there's one more season of soccer for Knowles, who has been a big part of the Kardinals' three straight appearances at the state tournament.
"I love soccer. When college time comes, and I have the opportunity to do soccer or diving, it's going to be hard to choose," Knowles said. "(I've played Boys and Girls Club soccer) every summer. I'm bummed the upcoming summer will be my last summer with Boys and Girls Club. I'm going to coach after I'm too old to play."
Knowles said that competing for a state championship, both in soccer and in diving, has driven her to perform at a higher level.
"It's so rad to compete at that level, and you're there to win," Knowles said. "The high the competition, the more exciting, the better I want to do."
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