Justine started up the steep, blue-painted platform stairs. Her bare feet plodded through cold, chlorine-laced puddles that gathered on the narrow steps. Every time her foot landed in one of them, water rippled away from her feet, and droplets cascaded down the side of the stair, glistening as they fell to the deck below.
She clutched the metal handrail tightly and stepped onto the 5-meter platform. Often she would stop here and go out to the edge, where she would perform backward and forward dives, flips, and sometimes even inward dives. But today, she kept climbing—up the next flight of stairs toward the 7.5-meter platform.
Turn around. Don't do this, her instincts told her.
But I want to! her mind shouted back. Justine kept climbing. She refused to look down, though her eyes wanted to take their focus off that intimidating goal. The 10-meter platform.
Her heart thudded in her chest. She felt lost in the roar of her breathing. As she passed the 7.5-meter mark, she was aware of how far away the splashes of the other divers seemed, how distant the lifeguard's whistle and the swim team's hands slapping the water in the other pool were. She tried to ignore the sounds.
Justine's mind spun as she stumbled up the last flight of stairs, gripping the handrail as if her life depended on it. Her foot finally touched the top step, and she felt terribly alone on the vast platform.
Inching around the wide post at the top of the platform tower, she finally peered over the railing and looked down. Through the maze of stairs and posts and platforms, she caught glimpses of the rough, gray-brown pool deck below and dark, wet heads with bare shoulders, moving back and forth. Inhaling through her nose, she turned and walked stiffly toward the edge of the platform. She felt like a zombie.
Finally reaching the edge, she knelt and then shifted onto her stomach to look down. A large, fluffy cloud drifted across the sun. Justine shivered. She could feel the breeze much more up here. With the sun's reflection gone from the surface of the water, she could see clearly to the bottom of the pool. Her throat tightened, and butterflies suddenly filled her stomach. She stood up again and paced back and forth, stopping every now and then to peek over the railing.
She was frustrated. Her head felt as if it would explode with all her anxiety of diving off and her annoyance with the coach for making her wait so long. The more time she spent up there, the more nervous she got.
At last, after what seemed like hours, she looked down again and saw the coach yelling up at her, "It's clear, Justine. You can dive now."
OK. This is it. Justine took a deep breath to slow her heartbeat, then considered. Did she really want to dive? She'd seen the other kids do it plenty of times, but she was so high . . . On the other hand, diving off here would be the same as diving off the 5-meter platform. The only difference was that she'd fall farther.
Almost without thinking, Justine slowly raised her arms. She paused a moment; then, bringing her arms down quickly and back up, she rose on her tiptoes and let herself fall forward.
As she dropped rapidly toward the water, she took in everything: the blue sky, the shimmering pools, the coaches, lifeguards, and swim instructors pacing the deck, the splashes of the swimmers and the other divers, the birds flying overhead, the springboards bouncing, the sun on her face, the wind in her hair . . . Wow! It was almost like flying.
Suddenly Justine didn't want this moment to end. She felt as if she could soar away with the birds, if only the water wasn't rushing up at her so fast . . .
Justine entered the water perfectly straight and smooth, the image of an Olympic diver doing a perfect dive.