Freedom at the edge of a diving board: St. John’s masters diving team shows age is just a number


ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Diving is supposed to be a young person’s game.

It’s the mobility of youth that often allows divers to catapult themselves off the diving board from incredible heights and weave their bodies through the air in intricate ways before entering the water with nary a ripple.

Just don’t tell that to Rennie Soo.

The 70-year-old from St. John’s is the oldest member of the St. John’s Edge Masters Diving Team. But to Soo, who owns the Magic Wok restaurant, age is just a number.

Watching Soo position himself at the edge of the diving board as he prepares to dive almost feels like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be. A 70-year-old man isn’t supposed to be in his position, let alone doing front and back flips from heights as high as five metres (16 feet).

Still, there he is, gliding through the air with the ease of someone a quarter his age.

Soo remembers growing up in the Hong Kong countryside, leaping into nearby ponds and feeling a freedom as he jumped.

He found that feeling again at the age of 55, when he started diving in St. John’s for the first time.

“I find it interesting,” said Soo. “I feel great.”

A community

There is a small but mighty community of masters divers in St. John’s, including Soo. Each of them found their way to the sport in a different way.

Elayne Greeley came back to diving last fall after a 33-year absence. The 50-year-old wanted something fun to do after the COVID-19 pandemic robbed some of the fun from everyone’s life.

So, there she was in the learn-to-dive camp with 10- and 11-year-old children, reteaching her body how to gracefully leap into the water.

Then she found the masters team.

“Because I wasn’t alone, and we were kind of older adults, we just had so much fun,” said Greeley.

Claire Neilson rounds out the team and, at 23, is the youngest of the trio.

Neilson was looking for an activity that took spatial awareness and body awareness into account, and says diving was the perfect way to do that.

That was in the fall, and now she’s doing front and back tucks.

“It was really fun to be in a sport where we can build up to something and still be active and competing at our age,” she said.

Claire Neilson. - Contributed
Claire Neilson. – Contributed

The first competition

In April, the Edge Diving Club finally got to hit the road and compete at their first event: they packed their swimsuits and headed for Calgary.

That’s where the Novice Nationals were being held for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020, including a masters division.

Each of the four divers the club sent, including teenager Merrick Noel, brought home medals.

But it wasn’t about the results, really.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in years because it was very challenging and it was really exciting to meet tons of other new divers,” said Greeley, who competed in the one- and three-metre springboard events.

One of the medals won by St. John's Edge Master Diving Team members at the Novice Nationals in Calgary, Alberta. - Contributed
One of the medals won by St. John’s Edge Master Diving Team members at the Novice Nationals in Calgary, Alberta. – Contributed

The event not only gave them an opportunity to compete, it gave them the chance to interact with other divers. They could talk about diving, compare notes and reminisce about a sport they love.

For them, it was refreshing to be at the pool.

“It was just so fun. We couldn’t stop smiling the whole time we were there,” said Neilson. “It was a really refreshing weekend. I think that’s the word I would use.”

Elayne Greeley, Rennie Soo and Claire Neilson. - Contributed
Elayne Greeley, Rennie Soo and Claire Neilson. – Contributed

Charging towards the Games

While the masters divers were given a chance to compete and interact with other passionate athletes, the national event was about pushing toward a Canada Games berth for the group’s younger teammate.

Noel, 16, has his eye on competing at the 2022 Canada Summer Games being held in the Niagara region this summer. Calgary was about fine tuning his dives in the hope of qualifying for that event.

With each dive, Noel felt himself getting stronger.

“It helped me understand the competitions and how they work,” he said. “It will obviously be harder, but I feel it helped with my understanding of how the sport is going to work during Canada Games.”

The Edge Diving Club is an interesting group with a shared love of the art form that is diving. In a way, they represent the different stages a diver progresses through: Noel is the young diver looking toward their future; Neilson aims to find a sense of freedom that had previously eluded her; while Greeley and Soo love diving for the majesty of it.

They are sides of the same coin, and together show the beauty of a sport that some people only see on television every four years.

“It can be hard at times, but when you get into it, it’s hard to stop because of the fun you have during diving,” said Noel.

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