It is obvious to see how the nickname “The Swan” came to rest upon Thunder Mountain High School diver Terra Pierce.
Pool patrons watching her practice noticed her ballet form, artistic turns and elegant posture.
But it’s wrong to think Pierce is only graceful and beautiful.
Swans require strength, too, physical and mental determination that propels them from a walk along the board during the approach, into an exaggerated step (the press) and a leap from one or two legs (the hurdle), landing on the end of the board with enough force to launch into multiple disciplines that wrench and stretch the core of the body during flight.
“Diving helps me be more courageous and creative,” Terra Pierce said, standing at the edge of a practice dive at Augustus Brown Pool on Tuesday night. “It pushes me in life. Plus it is just a lot of fun.”
Pierce’s father, Frank, was a diver for JDHS (1987 alumnus) while mother Sara (Gibson) was in Crimson Bears track and field.
“She is kind of following in her father’s footsteps,” Sara Pierce said. “But it is her thing too. She has always been very athletic.”
Pierce, an accomplished gymnast as a youth, also plays soccer in the spring, a sport that helps keep her leg and core strength up. She got into diving at her father’s suggestion and that of a friend who didn’t want to join the sport alone.
“I loved it,” Terra Pierce said. “And I have been doing it ever since, even though my friend wasn’t able to continue.”
As a freshman, Pierce joined the dive team halfway through the season.
“I would, like, smack on my back,” Pierce said. “I wasn’t actually able to complete the dive. I could complete 11 dives, just not covering all the categories.”
Last season, Pierce qualified for state with a fourth-place region finish. At state she finished 15th, mostly on the skill of her reverse straight dives.
She said it has become one of her stronger dives.
“It shows me that even though it wasn’t something I was able to get right away I still pushed myself to get it,” she said. “It showed that the hard work really paid off.”
The dive is problematic for a tall diver.
“If I do it well it absolutely looks good,” Pierce said. “If I don’t, then it is very noticeable.”
This season Pierce has a chance to make a significant mark in the top ten among the state divers, mostly due to a strenuous practice routine.
“She is a perfectionist,” diving coach Courtney Nelson said. “She challenges herself. I don’t have to do a lot of that. She wants to be good during competition so she sets her mind to achieve a goal and then she is going to do it.”
With the Region V Swim and Dive Championships days away, Pierce is more determined than ever.
She is the only diver from Juneau in the meet and one of two from Southeast, Ketchikan’s Luke Jones being the other. They will automatically qualify for the state championships. Due to their competitive season scores, Pierce is ranked 13th in the state for females and Jones is second among males. At their last meet, Pierce scored higher than Jones.
“I am nervous and excited,” Pierce said. “I am nervous to see what my score will be but super excited at the same time because I feel like I have accomplished a lot this year. We will place first no matter how we do but, on the other side of it, state will be here this year and we will have 12 others from around the state we will be able to compete against.”
The Southeast meet has found Pierce practicing longer and harder, working into a higher degree of difficulty.
“We are only working on 2.0 or over,” Nelson said. “Really challenging dives. She shows up on time and just wants to do the same dive until she is exhausted and cannot do it any more. She is a very positive person. She is always cheerful.”
Pierce also scores well with a pike-one-and-a-half from the forward position. The body is bent at the hips, with legs straight and arms and head by ankles in a somersault.
Pierce’s most difficult dives are the inward one-and-a-half and forward double somersault (both 2.2).
One of her favorites is the reverse in pike position (1.7). It is the same as a forward dive except the athlete flips backward. A reverse swan dive to the layman.
“It is just super pretty,” Pierce said. “It is really simple but if you can nail it, it is just a beautiful dive.”
Due to the difficulty of her current dives, Pierce wears a wet suit, lessening the impact of missing an entry. It also provides a form of weight training as the body adapts to the full body armor and is significantly lighter when it is taken off.
Four divers from each region will be ranked for competition at state. In Southeast, however, just three other freshmen (at JDHS, TMHS and KTN) currently are training and do not have the required dives to compete in a region championship.
A diver is required to complete 11 dives among five categories (forward, backward, reverse, inward, twister) to compete at regions.
Forward means forward takeoff with forward rotation; backward is backward takeoff with forward rotation; reverse is forward takeoff with backward rotation; inward is backward takeoff with forward rotation; and twister is one of the first four categories with twisting in half-twist increments (1/2 to 4 twists). Dives are rated by difficulty from 1.4 (front dive in tuck position) to 3.2.
“I still feel like I need to improve every day,” Pierce said. “Especially with state coming. That has been more of my focus because of all the competition coming. There will be a lot of girls that have more people around them and more experience with being able to see more people do more complicated dives. I am just trying to make sure I stay up to par and can do the best I could do.”
Another hardship Pierce faces is practice time. While northern competitors have high school pools, club pools and private instructors as well as team coaches, Pierce shares her practice time with community members during open swim at Augustus Brown Pool.
It was the only time available to work with Nelson, who is the dive coach for both Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain. Pierce spends five days a week diving over a combined seven hours and after this season will use that routine year-round to prepare for her senior year.
“One of my goal dives is a reverse two-and-a-half,” Pierce said. “It would be the highest score of 3.2. It would be kind of cool. I think everyone’s dream is to get a first at state… that would be awesome. I guess I will see where I end up.”
On Tuesday night, Pierce completed another step in her transformation.
Four steps into a press, a hurdle off two legs and a launch from solid into liquid…
the awkward freshman body feathered out into a promising sophomore athlete, arms seemingly pulling her fully extended body in a rigid yet harmonic junior flight above the shiny shimmering surface below.
Like a swan.