Even after years of practice and competition, and countless trophies, Thunder Bay, Ont.-born cliff diver Molly Carlson still has to fight off the urge to simply not jump.
“I think it’s so natural for everyone, even professionals, to have that instinct not to jump,” Carlson said. “It’s probably your fight-or-flight.
“But for me, it’s standing on the edge of the cliff, trying to replace all the negative. You’re ready, you’re capable and you’re brave.”
“The more I say that to myself, the more I feel confident to jump off a cliff around the world, and it tends to be working out pretty good.”
Carlson’s most recent success came last month in Fukuoka, Japan, when she won a silver medal in the women’s high diving finals at the World Aquatics Championships.
“That was such an exciting event, and I think for Team Canada to show up and get two medals at this crazy event, jumping off 20 metres, was insane,” Carlson said. “I’m so proud of our whole team. We’ve been working so hard to prove to everyone that we belong up there on that podium at the world stage and we definitely came through with those goals.”
Until this year, Team Canada had never won a medal at the world championships (the team actually finished the event with two podium appearances: Jessica Macaulay earned a bronze medal).
High diving not an Olympic event, yet
“I’m sure you’ve all seen 10-metre Olympic diving,” said Carlson, who now lives in Montreal. “You jump off this 10-metre platform and land head first.”
High diving is a bit different, she said, and not only because of the extra height: high divers jump off a platform 20 metres above the surface of the water.
“You’re doing that same 10-metre Olympic takeoff, with an extra half rotation to your feet,” Carlson said. “You always have to land on your feet for safety, because above 10 metres, it is not safe to land on your hands.
“So your body takes this 66 kilometre-per-hour impact, and you land on your feet with flexed feet to build a surface area for your whole body to go through so you don’t make a splash.”
While high diving isn’t yet an Olympic sport, Carlson holds out hope that will change.
“If this becomes an Olympic sport, for me, personally, it’d be a full-circle moment,” Carlson said. “When I missed out on the Olympics in 2016, coming fourth at trials and only two [people] go to the Olympics, I went through a pretty dark phase, comparing myself to other people and going through this mental health journey for me to finally be kind to myself. [I] have worked on myself and love exactly who I am.
“I think it’s really important to be kind to yourself, and if I can go to the Olympics with a positive energy and good bravery, I think it would be really special.”
Online support come from #bravegang
Carlson can be sure plenty of people would have her back in that situation: she’s built up a very supportive online community using the hashtag #bravegang.
“If only 10 girls in the world do what I can do, how can I connect with these three million new people that have followed me?” Carlson said. “My mom and I, we brainstormed and we created this hashtag for everyone to use to share their own brave stories, and be proud of themselves for even the small brave things that they’ve done in a day.
“Every time I click on it I get emotional, because it inspires me every single day to do what I do. And I hope my videos inspire others as well.”
Superior Morning9:31Molly Carlson: World Aquatics Championships
Asked whether opening up on social media is scarier than a 20-metre leap into the water, Carlson said “definitely.”
“When I was 16 and going through my own mental health struggles, I felt so alone,” she said. “When I’m posting these social media posts about self love and being kind, I think I’m helping a 16-year-old that used to be in my situation and they’re going through their own struggles.
“But I hope my posts can help them not feel alone in their challenges, and it makes me feel really proud.”