As she climbed the ladder for her last dive at this year’s high school state championships, Brookwood’s Gillian Lee understood the situation’s finality.
It was not only her last event as a Brookwood athlete, it was the final dive of her competitive career — she doesn’t plan to dive in college because of nagging back injuries. Since it was the culmination of her career, she wanted to nail the dive called 5223, a back somersault with 1 1/2 twist.
“Yeah, I knew it (was my last competitive dive) at the time,” the senior said. “I was like, ‘You know what, it’s my last dive. You know how to do this one. Make it hit. You’ve always made this one hit. You know how to do this. You’ve got this.’”
The dive went as planned for Lee, the Daily Post’s Girls Diver of the Year.
“I thought it went pretty well,” Lee said.
The final dive capped a 10th-place finish at the state meet with 206.30 points. She hoped for a higher finish at state, but her late-season training hit a roadblock thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some crazy thing with a COVID situation happened at the end of the year, so I ended up having to take two weeks off of practice,” Lee said. “And as soon as state happened, I had to go right there. I didn’t really get that much practice, but it was OK.”
That said, she was pretty satisfied with how her final season of diving played out.
“At the beginning, I did pretty well, but then toward the end, especially at state, I was a little bit more disappointed with myself,” Lee said. “But overall the senior year was probably like an 8 out of 10. I was a lot more proud of myself than I was in previous years.”
The early part of her senior season was filled with victories and she leaves Brookwood as a record-holder. She won the Gwinnett County title with a score of 542.05 points, and was champion of both the Gwinnett Dive Invitational and the Bettie Hudson Memorial.
The county title was her first after finishing as runner-up — less than five points out of first place — as a junior. She was sixth at county as a sophomore in her first season of high school diving.
“Gillian’s diving story has been pretty amazing,” Brookwood diving coach Joel McLendon said. “She joined the team too late in her freshman year to compete, but she came to practice every day and worked as hard as anyone one else. Her sophomore year she earned a spot competing at state and was the closest on our team to scoring against much more experienced girls. Then she really started to work. She started competing and training in the off season at UGA and by the time she started competing for her junior season she was one of the best in our county, only narrowly missed being county champ, and actually scored for our team at state. This year, she has been pretty dominant in local competitions and set two new school records and a county record on the way to being crowned county champion.
“In practice, Gill has always been exemplary. She brings such energy and enthusiasm every day, easily putting in more reps on the board than anyone else even when she isn’t feeling 100%. Between dives she’s coaching other divers, encouraging them and giving them tips to improve, and practicing her TikTok dances. She has high standards for herself and for others, but manages to maintain those with good grace and humor. It’s been an honor to be a part of her journey.”
When Lee wasn’t 100%, it had to do with her chronic back problems, which run in her family. The struggles through back pain drove her decision not to pursue diving at the college level.
“I was going to dive in college, but I had to take a second for a realization to hit,” Lee said. “I’ve had bunch of injuries, especially my back, and diving put a lot of pressure on my back.”
Lee, a gymnast for nine years before she was introduced to diving, plans to attend Georgia Gwinnett College for a year and transfer to Kennesaw State, then possibly resume a career in gymnastics if her health allows it.
“I did gymnastics at GGA (Georgia Gymnastics Academy in Lawrenceville) and I still work there now and coach,” Lee said. “Any chance I get, I do flips on the floor. I still love the sport. Definitely working there has taught me, ‘You love this. You should come back if you can.’”
While her diving career is over, she also has enjoyed that sport with both the Georgia Diving Club and the Brookwood Broncos.
“Diving, because it’s such a small sport, when I went to my club it felt like a family,” Lee said. “It was the best people I’ve ever met. The people here (at Brookwood), all the swimmers were really supportive of every diver. Even though we didn’t practice together, they were always really supportive. Then the divers at Brookwood were always really sweet. We always got along so well.”