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a silent salute: The audience "claps" at Joke Night during Deaf Awareness week. Click Arts&Life for a link to story. / Photo by Leah Lopshire

Today's word on journalism

December 15, 2008

As part of my own personal "war on Christmas" (which a Utah state senator has offered legislation to outlaw), the WORD celebrates the season by going on hiatus until January. May all out days be merry and bright, and here’s to a safe, healthy and saner New Year. HoHoHo!

Empty Minds: "Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity, none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I."

--Russell Baker, Pulitzer-winning columnist

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Dayna Christensen, Bear River High's diving champion

By Dave Archer

November 21, 2008 | TREMONTON -- Standing at the back of the diving board, focusing on the thin sheet of fiberglass that separates her from the water, a million things run through Dayna Christensen's mind.

Hitting the board just right to get the right spring, making sure to keep her feet together while twisting and turning through the air, and hitting the water just right to keep her splash to a minimum are just a few things that she thinks about as she stares out at the crystal clear water.

"Usually, I'm just trying to think of all the things I need to do right, or fix from the last dive I did, just getting the right mechanics," she says.

"Or not dying," she adds, with a laugh.

But when the time comes to execute her dive, all of those worries disappear, and Christensen jumps, flies, flips and twists through the air, all while making it look completely effortless. That power, grace and poise have helped Christensen become one of the most decorated athletes in Bear River High School history, winning the last two 3A/4A/5A individual state diving titles and playing a major role in three of the team's five straight team state titles.

While reaching that level has required hours upon hours of practice, and many sacrifices that have gone along with that, Christensen says being a diver is who she is.

"I just love to dive," she says. "I love meeting the people when we go to compete, I love all the places we go. I just love diving in general, it's what I do."

Diving has always been a big part of her life. Her mom and current coach, Janet Christensen, was a college diver, and older sister Lisa dove for the Bears also. That pedigree helped her to develop a love for the sport at an early age and a dedication to be the best.

"I wouldn't be the diver that I am without my mom, because she pushed me a lot more than a coach who wasn't my parent would have," she said.

Ever since Dayna joined the diving team as a freshman in 2005, she's been setting, and subsequently breaking, her own personal and school records with regularity. Her latest came during this season's opening meet, where she recorded a six-dive score of 280.1.

"It's pretty amazing to watch her," Janet said. "She's just so focused on what she wants and she's always looking in that direction and moving in that direction and she just doesn't ever let up."

Christensen's talent immediately drew the attention of a number of colleges. This past summer and fall, she spent time either visiting or talking to representatives from schools such as UCLA, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, Boston, Wisconsin and Columbia. She ultimately made the decision to stick close to home and attend BYU, where she felt she could find a balance with getting the best education and diving training possible from coach Keith Russell.

"I really think the coach there can get me to where I want to go," Christensen said. "He's an incredible coach. He's coached two Olympians, he went to the Olympics himself, and he was the American judge in Beijing (at the 2008 Summer Olympics). It's just the atmosphere there, and he offered me a really good scholarship."

That scholarship is significant, given the fact that those are rarities for incoming freshman who participate in swimming and diving. Unlike sports like basketball and football, less than half of the swimming and diving team has a scholarship, as there are only 14.6 scholarships available for an average 30-member team. Those are usually taken by juniors and seniors who have been with the program for a few years.

The fact that she was so heavily recruited and offered a scholarship wasn't too much of a surprise for Janet, however, as she's seen first hand how much Dayna has progressed throughout the years.

"She's always been strong, that's always been her best asset, but she's had more of a problem with getting dives lined up and clean," Janet said. "She's made a lot of progress with that over the years."

For this season, Christensen said she'll remain focused on improving her own dives and scores and helping her team to what she hopes will be a sixth straight state title.

"I want to do better every time, I want to increase my score," she said. "You really do need the support from your team. If you don't have the support from them, it's really hard to progress because you don't have people to push you to learn new dives or get better."

That positive attitude, combined with her competitive nature to be the best at her sport, will likely carry her to another state title, a successful college career, and maybe beyond. According to Janet, that's totally up to how good Dayna wants to be.

"If she decides to do something, she'll do it," Janet said.

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