The splash sent ripples through the community of world-class swimmers when Forest Park’s Michael Wright became the first African American to win a USA National Diving Championship. Wright nailed all six of his dives off the 3-meter platform in the finals on Feb. 8 at Columbus, Ohio. The 23-year-old University of Tennessee senior acknowledged the foundation for his success was formed while growing up at Circle and Madison.
Michael was not just a Forest Park “pool rat,” he was an avid gymnast who spent hours training at Tri-Star Gymnastics. Michael’s parents, Al and Kris, founded the school and Michael competed with his two older sisters to top each other with tricks on the trampoline.
The body control Michael learned at Tri-Star translated well to diving. Diving, though, has a greater fear factor. After Michael launches himself from a 10-meter platform, he flips, twists and turns for 33 feet, before entering the water at 30 mph. The adrenaline rush keeps him climbing the ladder for more.
Ten-meter dives are hard for Kris to watch, although Michael claims that if he “crashes” he recovers in a few minutes. Kris didn’t witness any crashes in Columbus. Michael’s 396.00 score set a school record.
Before his historic win, Michael never thought of becoming the first black diving champion. He thinks it’s great, though, that his performance destroys stereotypes and breaks down barriers.
Not that Michael’s done breaking barriers. His goals include qualifying for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Kris also never considered her son to be a pioneer: Diversity in Forest Park made race seem irrelevant. However, when she learned that Michael was the first black student to join the University of Tennessee swim team, she worried other communities might not be so integrated.
Michael’s diving career began after he became the only middle schooler in his class to move on to St. Patrick’s High School. He picked St. Pat’s in part because it had a pool. Michael joined the swim team and competed downstate his freshman year. Following an outstanding high school career, Michael received a scholarship to Indian River Community College, a Florida school, where he captured several national junior college championships.
After competing as a junior in the University of Tennessee’s top flight program, Michael was red-shirted this year to recover from stress fractures to his spine. He was cleared to compete in nationals, though, and the rest is literally history.