Izzy Ashdown on Olympic Aspirations and Finding Herself
The record-setting diver talks about her start in gymnastics and life in Australia.
How’d you get into diving?
I started off as a gymnast at the age of 2. My mom said I used to crawl on everything. So she put me in gymnastics. Then they wanted me in elite gymnastics, in the running to go to the Olympics. I did bars and beam. That stopped because I broke my hip when I was 9. I was stretching into the splits, and I told my coach I couldn’t go any farther. My coach pushed me down and something popped — my hip. I never really healed properly. I still have problems on my right side. I have back problems as well.
A gymnast at my school did diving. She gave me a contact, and I decided to try it. I dived with the school. Then the Olympic coach saw me and wanted to try me out. I got on the Olympic squad when I was 12.
How do you balance school with a sport?
I didn’t have a childhood. I just have memories of going to school then going to practice. Then doing it over again every single day. It didn’t really bother me because that was all I knew. It did teach me a lot. I feel like I’m more mature than a lot of people my age. I have gone through more things than people my age. I have a tattoo on my hip, and it’s like a story of my life.
Tell me more about the tattoo.
I got it designed when I was 19. It’s a rose, but there’s a rose that’s chopped off. Do you know the tall poppy syndrome? When poppies grow, one grows higher than all the rest of the field. They cut the tall one off so they can all be level. It’s representing my talent: growing better than everyone else’s, but they want to put you down and put you at the same level as everyone else. There are petals that are broken off.
Elite sport does so much damage to you mentally, physically. It’s just bringing you down constantly. When I stopped diving for two years, I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I would go to college, come home and watch TV and eat because I didn’t know what to do. I got chubby. I decided I needed to find my way. So in the tattoo, there’s another flower that represents rebirth. There are damaged petals on it, but they’re not falling off. That reminds me of where I’ve been and what hardships I’ve overcome with my sport and childhood.
What does it feel like to dive?
It depends on how I leave the board. If it’s a good one, then it feels like I’m weightless. It feels like I’m dancing or flying. If I get a really nice takeoff, I just let my body do what it does and just feel the dive. It’s like dancing in midair. Like all my problems have gone away. It’s just smooth. What makes it great is when I kick out, and I hit the water and hear that sound. I can feel how I land and hear it and know I nailed it.
You just know what you’re doing. Trust your body. If I don’t have an ideal takeoff, I say, “OK, this is where I need to focus and put all my training into this one dive, fix it and just nail it.”
“If I get a really nice takeoff, I just let my body do what it does and just feel the dive. It’s like dancing in midair. Like all my problems have gone away.”
What does it feel like when you hit the water?
Have you seen a bullet hit water? It starts at a fast pace and then it slows down. It’s just peaceful.
I associate the feeling with the sound. You want a good sound on your entries. Once you get a good sound and at the right angle, you know it’s a great day. When you come up and hear everyone cheering for you, you think, “This is great.”
Your sport is just you — it’s not really about the board or the water. It’s just you.
And my mind. I’m a very negative person. I’ll think I’m a realist. I’ll think I’m not going to do as well as I want to and then God’s like, “Oh, I’m going to surprise you.” When I’m surprised, I have a better feeling. Maybe if I think negatively every time I can be surprised.
You need to exert energy on the board, jump high and get enough distance to do as many somersaults as you can, for example. That plays into power. But it’s also yourself and your mind. If you’re not in the right headspace, it won’t go the way it should.
Where’s your favorite place to dive?
It’s challenging because of the wind and the sun, but I love diving outdoors. You feel the sun on your skin. It makes me happy. I’m not just in a bubble — I’m free.
What did it feel like when you broke two records in the home meet against Incarnate Word?
I didn’t really think I broke it. I just knew I had a good meet. My assistant coach told me my score, and we checked the record board. I remember looking at the board last year and thinking they were pretty high scores, and I didn’t know if I could do it. My coach told me I’d get there one day. Now I’m here.
What does if feel like to have a legacy in TCU’s record books?
I want to keep breaking my own record. Having a record pushes me to break it. Of course I want to be on the record board for a long time. It feels great. It’s a warm feeling. It gives me more encouragement and a sense of being, too, like I’m at the right place.
I just never felt good enough, ever. Even in gymnastics or diving. To feel like that is something special that I’ve never felt before. I like it. People can see how good I am and my hard work.
Do your teammates have a nickname for you?
Roo. I think I got that because I’m a kangaroo — kangaroo from Australia and diving, jumping.
You know how when you’re on Facebook and someone that you’re not friends with messages you and it’s in another folder? In 2017 I saw someone messaged me in 2015 to ask if I was interested in diving in America. I asked if the offer still stands. The person didn’t coach anymore but still had connections.
It was kind of fate.
Head Diving Coach Anthony Crowder reached out to me. We talked over FaceTime here and there. I committed before I had a tour. I came back home, packed up my things and left.
I questioned if I should go: It’s America and I’m going to be living away from home. I’ve never lived in a different country without anyone. How likely is it for me to go? I just took a leap of faith. I came here and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, to be honest.
I’m getting so much life experience that’s setting me up for life.
I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. I do get upset here and there, but I just call home. I know strategies on how to deal with it. I’ve been seeing a hypnotist and psychologist. I know how to deal with things.
When you decided to come to TCU, how did you tell your parents?
I don’t remember how I told them, but I do remember going to the airport and leaving for the first time. It still gets me emotional. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.
Is your family excited when you come home?
Yes! We cry. Well, like, they cry and I try to hold it in because I don’t want them to see me cry.
I would not be anywhere without my family. I don’t tell them that. I’m not a very emotional, affectionate person, but they know I love them. I do put on a rough exterior. We know we love each other.
Do you have any athletes in your family?
My cousin is a triathlete. He’s not famous, but he is good.
Is your family aquatic?
My mom used to be a swimmer. My mom was a very sporty person before my sister was born. My sister can swim as well. My great-grandfather was a diver. But like, back in the olden days.
Are you still thinking about the Olympics?
That’s a good question. My goal since I was maybe 6 was Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. Then I stopped diving, got into CrossFit, then came to TCU. I started enjoying that laid-back, fun environment with diving. As my season gets better and I’m more competitive and getting back to where I used to be, I think about the Olympics.
But then also, when I think about that, just the environment, that feeling, kind of haunts me. I don’t want to be in that judgmental environment anymore and so serious. It’s not fun. I didn’t know how toxic it was — that outside-looking-in perspective — until I came to TCU.
Here we just do our best. I’m starting to set goals again. There was a time I didn’t set goals because I’d get disappointed when I wouldn’t make them. I could do a dive in practice but not in competition — I would be so focused on getting the goal that I would psych myself out and not get the goal when it was technically achievable.
What’s your favorite thing about Texas?
I like the country atmosphere. I’m a country girl at heart. I was born and raised in Sydney, but my family is from six hours out into the country on a farm. … If I’m in the city, I’ll be a city person. But if I’m in the country, I’ll be full hillbilly — that’s what the Americans say.
I had cowboy boots before I came to Texas. One thing that not a lot of people know about me is that I can herd sheep. It’s really hard to herd a pack of lambs because there’s so many of them. If you have the adults it’s a lot easier. I can do it with the cattle dogs as well. I’ll be on a quad bike. I have to yell and wave my arms.
I’m trying to figure out if there’s a segue back into diving with that.
[Laughs.] No, no.
All right, cheers.
— Trisha Spence
Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.