For parents of Olympic divers, fear passes but nerves never go

For the parents of Olympic platform divers, watching your children prepare to hurl themselves from atop a 33-foot tower can be a particularly apprhensive experience. 

But everyone handles the situation differently.

For Sheilagh Boudia, whose son David won gold in the men’s indivudal 10m platform event in London, it has taken awhile to get used to.

“There was a time when David was diving and I did experience some nightmares of a particular dive,” Sheilagh said. “I basically just worked through it in my head because I certainly don’t want to let this affect David in any way. And then I just came at peace with it. And that worked, because he performs that dive beautifully.”

For Bill and Jill Johnson, whose son Steele struck his head on the platform in a near-death accident in 2009, it isn’t much of an issue. 

“I have zero (fear),” Bill told NBCOlympics.com. “It’s something that never crosses my mind at all. For whatever reason, I have been shielded from that fear. I think it’s because Steele has never thought a thing about it, I mean, he was ready to go diving the next day (after his accident).”

Whether or not the fear is there, the nerves certainly are. 

Sheilagh says she doesn’t sit down once through an entire event. And Bill, while watching Johnson and Boudia qualify for the Olympics in June said in an emotional interview with Kelli Stavast, that he was so nervous he forgot to wear his shoes. 

A silver medal in the synchronized 10m platform event on the second day of diving competition in the Rio Games went a long way to settle both families down. And with a full 11 days before Boudia and Johnson climb the tower for the individual event, they’ve got plenty of time on their hands in Rio.

The way Bill sees it, his son has as good a shot at taking home a second medal as anyone, though he’s staying realistic about the task ahead.

“He’s ready to go,” Johnson said. “It’s an exciting time for him. He’s champing at the bit to get going because he’s diving pretty well right now. … Steele looks like one of the five that looks like he could win a medal. The two Chinese () Thomas Daley, David Boudia and Steele. I would say your gold, silver and bronze would come out of those five.

“That’s a lot to ask of a 20-year-old. The two Chinese are very talented and Daley is quite experienced and David is quite experieced, but Steele says he’s pretty amped up. He’s ready to go.”

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Pictured: Parents of both David Boudia and Steele Johnson.

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What’s in a name

Steele Johnson has a unique name. How did it come about? His father Bill tells the story…

“My oldest son is named Race. That is a name that I’ve always wanted for a boy because in the 60s growing up my favorite cartoon was Jonny Quest and Race being, of course, one of the characters on that cartoon series. And I wanted a boy named Race. I said (to wife Jill), ‘If you let me have a Race, you can have the rest of ’em.’ And she agreed to it. 

“She wanted something different that went with Race. Her mom’s from south Arkansas. There was a family friend named Steele somebody, I don’t remember his last name. But that was his first name. And you just don’t see that. You see Steele as a last name, you just don’t see it as a first name. So she chose that, something different to go with Race, basically.

“And as it turns out, both boys love their names. Being Race and Steele Johnson, I want something a little flashier. And Race and Steele definitely are.”

Big brother Race plays football at Purdue University as a cornerback.

Pictured: Race Johnson, Steele’s older brother.

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Staying safe

Safety has been a key concern at the Rio Games, but Bill Johnson said he hasn’t seen anything out of the ordinary in his time in Brazil.

“We knew Ryan Lochte and a couple of his friends got held up so we’re just staying close to the crowd,” he told NBCOlympics.com. “We really haven’t been too concerned about the safety issues. But we’re just not really interested in doing anything that we don’t know. We have not had any incidences yet and we don’t anticipate any.”