By David Willis
---- — Zoe Keffer was crazy, they thought.
Friends, family and her swim coaches were already stunned when, in the middle of her junior season she decided — with no background — to become a diver after 2 1/2 years as a successful high school swimmer.
But then, after she shattered her nose attempting a dive a month into her career, she waited just three weeks before she was back on the diving board ready to jump again.
“We were having heart attacks,” longtime Golden Warriors swim coach Marlyn Fitzgerald said. “There she was, a day before surgery, diving again. After she broke her nose, we told her she didn’t have to get back on the board. But she is so courageous and so dedicated.”
Less than a year after attempting her first dive, Keffer has fallen head-over-heals in love with her event and has emerged as one of the top divers on the powerhouse Andover swimming and diving team.
“Diving is very, very scary,” Keffer said. “When you are out on the board, you realize how little control you have over your body. It’s very scary, but it is also very exciting. I absolutely loved it from my first dive, and I feel like I am a naturally stronger and more confident person since I started to dive.”
Since childhood, Keffer had been a competitive swimmer. She then became a promising member of the Golden Warriors, placing fifth in the 500 freestyle (5:29.19) at the Division 1 state meet as a sophomore.
So it stunned everyone when, midway through last season, she declared that she wanted to become a diver.
“During high school practice one day, I decided I wanted to try diving,” Keffer said. “I always thought it looked like fun and so I went up on the board and tried it and thought it was great. Everyone thought I was really crazy.”
No one was more surprised than Andover diving coach Becky Pierce.
“It almost never happens,” Pierce said. “It’s very unusual to take it up that late. I wouldn’t say she was crazy, but she was very determined to try something new. She also wanted to get the team more points, and she did really well right away.”
Keffer continued to impress when she dove in her first meet.
“Everyone was wondering, after qualifying for sections as a swimmer, would I want to dive?” Keffer said. “Then everyone was really surprised in my first meet when I did well. My first dive I got three 6’s and everyone was like, ‘Wow, you are really good.’”
But a terrifying incident brought her season to an end, when she suffered a broken nose during a practice dive.
“It was really a freak accident,” she said. “I went for a dive during practice and kneed myself in the face. I hit the water and my nose was just shattered.
“I really didn’t know what happened at first. Then I got out of the water and everyone was freaking out. Then it started to hurt bad and I realized what had happened. It was very scary.”
Keffer needed 10 stitches on the bridge of her nose and was due for surgery three weeks later.
But there was a day, after the stitches were removed, but before she underwent surgery the following day, that she was medically allowed to dive.
But would she really dive the day before nose surgery? You betcha.
“I went to practice the day before surgery and said I wanted to dive,” she said. “I figured, I was already having nose surgery the next day. What was the worst I could do to myself?
“The injury and the time away from diving actually made me realize how much I missed it and how much I wanted to get back and do it.”
That fierce dedication greatly impressed her diving coach.
“The first day of the season we asked her if she wanted to dive or swim again,” Pierce said. “And she said she wanted to dive without missing a beat. It would have been a lot safer to swim, but she wanted to dive. That said a lot about her and that she really loves what she does.”
Now a senior, Keffer is a quad-captain and one of Andover’s best divers. And you need only to look at her face to see her excitement for the sport.
“What you have to see is the smile on her face every day,” Fitzgerald said. “Even if she isn’t happy with the way she is diving that day, she is smiling because she is out there. Now, I don’t want her encouraging too many swimmers to try diving, but as much as we would love to see her in the lanes, we love what she is doing.”
For Keffer, who hopes to qualify for sections this fall, she said her diving experience has meant more than just a lot of fun.
“I wanted to have the ability to perform under pressure,” said Keffer, who plans to study special education in college next year. “When I was a swimmer, I always had problems with mental toughness.
“Diving, having the ability and courage to do it, has helped me a lot and I am so glad I did it.”