SOUTHLAKE, TX - In a sport defined by hours of training for a make-or-break moment, going against the very best in the country, nobody had to tell Hailey Hernandez how tall of a task it was for her – an 18-year old fresh off of graduating from Southlake Carroll – to qualify for Team USA.
"Going into this meet I wasn’t expecting it," said Hernandez of the U.S. team trials held this month in Indianapolis. "I was going out there more for the experience and thinking this is just beginning of my career. I had goals for Paris 2024."
But Paris can wait.
Hernandez is heading to Tokyo after shocking the diving world in Indy – emerging from a competition of 27 women as one of two qualifiers to represent the United States in the 3-meter dive.
"When I hit that water I knew that I had done it and so I just had the biggest smile on my face," said Hernandez.
Her 7-year old self dreamed about this Olympic moment. But Hailey also remembers a time when she thought about ditching diving altogether.
"When I was about middle school [age] I actually wanted to quit because I struggled a lot with fear of learning new dives and taking it to the next level."
She pushed through and found herself on top of the diving world in Texas, winning state titles in the 1-meter dive all four seasons of her high school career at Carroll – important steps that prepared her for big moment of qualifying for these 2021 Olympic Games.
Unfortunately because of COVID-19, Hailey’s family will have to watch her Olympic moment play out from back here in Texas, since spectators are still not allowed at the games in Tokyo. On the flip-side, the pandemic has afforded Hailey a crucial extra year to prepare for these Olympics and may have made the ultimate difference between her making Team USA right now or not.
"It definitely did help me out because within the past year I have struggled a lot with some mental blocks and challenges with my diving," said Hernandez. "Being able to have that extra year and just really focus on myself, mentally slow down everything and come back, I think the break was really good for me."
"It’s sad and I’m sad that [my family won’t] get to go and it’s not going to be a completely normal experience, but I’m glad that the Olympics are still going on."
And now that she’s made a splash in the U.S. – why not shock the world?
"I’m just going out there to do the best that I can and represent such an amazing country,"
said Hernandez. "Obviously the goal is to medal, but if I just go out there and do the best I can I will be extremely happy."
Hernandez leaves for Tokyo on July 18th, with the diving competition starting on July 25th.