Photographs and words by Sheryl Wong
With the 2020 Summer Olympics behind her, Hailey Hernandez’s focus is on making the Paris 2024 Olympic team — and being a dedicated student. Several times a week, she wakes up to dark skies for the first of two practices. As a student-athlete studying biology at The University of Texas at Austin, she attends a full week’s worth of biology and chemistry classes. And on most weekends, she competes as a diver on the Longhorn Women’s Diving team, flipping through the air from up to 18 meters above the water. Despite the challenges of being a student-athlete, Hernandez has always felt that the effort is worth it. “I enjoy diving so much. I love the feeling of flying, and I love to jump off from all the different heights and do all kinds of tricks, flips, and spins. Having the nerves and being able to compete in front of all the people is just where I always thrive,” she says.
Transitioning from high school to college has been challenging as the environment and diving coaches changed. But Hernandez is grateful that Head Diving Coach Matt Scoggin, Volunteer Diving Coach Manny Pollard, Graduate Assistant Diving Coach Bryce Klein, and all her teammates have been really helpful in her academic and diving career. Before getting into the water, Hernandez practices spinning with Pollard. Before the competitions, Head Diving Coach Matt Scoggin cracks a few jokes to lighten up the girls. Hernandez, whom her teammates describe as the funny one, enjoys teasing her coaches a little bit to give everyone a good laugh; Toes pointed, body straight, and a tiny splash: These are the signs of a good dive. : On her way to becoming a professional diver, Hernandez’s parents, Richard and Teresa, are never absent. No matter how far from their home in Southlake, Texas, that the meet is held, Rick and Teresa will always show up in Longhorn shirts, cheering for their daughter. “Growing up as a super competitive person, I love the aspect of competition,” Hernandez says. : When out of the pool, Hernandez is a diligent biology sophomore at UT. Striking a balance between academics and diving has become a daily challenge for her — waking up early in the morning sometimes, practice two times a day, weights, going to class, study hall. “I have to deal with the balance between them both,” she says. Fortunately, Hernandez has a lot of support from school and her teammates in the same major. Hernandez closes her eyes, rehearsing the flips and spins in her mind before stepping up on the springboard. Despite years of practice, Hernandez sometimes gets a little nervous before competitions. : When Hernandez is on the diving tower, she stays focused. In her mind, everything fades out and there’s only her and the dive. Influenced by her older brother Nathaniel, who is also a diver, Hernandez started diving when she was 7 years old. By competing and trying new tricks with Nathaniel, Hernandez slowly fell in love with diving. Hernandez takes a breath, pushes down the springboard, and jumps as high as possible. She feels the motion: spin, flip, and dive. Diving not only brings her a great sense of achievement, but also allows her to, as she puts it, “fly in the air,” which she genuinely enjoys. ABOVE: Unlike some other sports, diving is an individual sport emphasizing body coordination instead of teamwork. However, with her cheerful and encouraging diving teammates, Hernandez has never felt alone. “Being able to have the time socializing with my friends and boyfriend, having fun, messing around is an important part of growing up,” she says.