This competitive diver won’t let her age get in the way of winning gold

Maryhelen Bronson walked slowly to the edge of the light blue diving board.

She steadied her posture, took a deep breath and then raised her arms.

One jump, two jumps, three — then she dove from the board, touched her toes and landed fingers first in the 12 feet of water below her. Minimal splash.

“That was very good,” her coach Rich Wilson told her as she climbed up the pool ladder. She watched a replay of her dive on the nearby TV.

It was at least her ninth jump on Wednesday night.

Bronson is a 70-year-old competitive diver who wins big.

During her last national and international competition, Bronson took home the gold in her age group.

The retired Arlington teacher grew up around the pool and began diving when she was a young teenager. Her sister, who is 10 years younger, also began diving.

Bronson went on to dive for her high school and college and then fell out of the sport until earlier this year.

“It’s like riding a bike,” she said about diving again. “It’s all muscle memory. My balance isn’t what it used to be, but it’s all the same motion.”

‘I never gave it a second thought’

Growing up, Bronson’s mom regularly took her to their pool in Dallas.

“I just started copying the lifeguards and was able to do what they did and they started giving me pointers,” she said.

When her family saw that she was good, her dad got her a coach. She was 14, which Bronson said is a late start for competitive divers.

Eventually she dove for her high school and then in college in the Western Athletic Conference.

“It was before Title IX so there wasn’t very good coaching at the college level for women,” she said, explaining that unless you were an Olympic-level diver, you didn’t get much attention.

“I dove sometimes with the men’s coach … there was some help but I was pretty much on my own in college,” she said. “And then I graduated and started teaching, so there just wasn’t an opportunity to dive.”

Bronson taught sixth grade science and reading. She moved on to teach physical education and now that she’s retired, she volunteers with Arlington schools and teaches a class at the University of Texas-Arlington.

“I also teach crochet,” she said laughing.

She found a master’s diving class based in Keller and joined up in May. That’s when she learned that diving now is just muscle memory.

“Balance and takeoff is what I work on the most,” she said. “Once I’m in the air, I can pretty much do most of the dives. I never gave it a second thought when I was a kid, but it was a little bit unnerving the first time I did it coming back here, just because my balance isn’t what it used to be.”

Asked what it’s like to coach Bronson, Wilson just said, “It’s really fun.”

A month after she started diving again, Bronson competed in the Pan American Games.

She took home gold.

“I only did the 1 meter,” she said. “And then I worked on the 3 meter, so I did 1 meter and 3 meter at the nationals and I got first in both of those.”

Bronson said she’s always kept in shape by swimming laps — but she likes the challenge of diving.

“I think you can do whatever you set your mind to,” she said. “I think the hardest thing is in my head — I can see and do the dives, but my body doesn’t always do what’s in my head. But I think you can challenge yourself. I think that’s what makes life so interesting.”

Nichole Manna, 817-390-7684, @NicholeManna