Three years ago, Micah Gilliam watched the other boys and girls do cute little dives into the water. It was at the end of a Forsyth Central swimming practice at the Cumming Aquatic Center, and a Lambert coach invited the Bulldogs’ swim team to the diving boards to give it a try. Gilliam happily got in line.
Many of the swimmers played it safe and fun. Some did cannon balls. Others did pencil dives. Then a lanky freshman stepped to the board, sprung into the air, did a double backflip and slipped into the water.
“[The coach] was really impressed,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam has been among the more impressive divers in Forsyth County since. On Monday, the senior won his third straight individual county title. Last season, he placed 11th in Class A-AAAAA in the 1-meter dive at the state meet in just his second season in the sport.
What Gilliam didn’t know three years ago was how perfectly suited, in both personality and skill, he was to diving. He fell for the sport from the start. As someone who grew up spending hours on a trampoline at home, he loved the flipping and tumbling. As someone with a flair for adventure (“addicted to adventure,” his Twitter bio reads), he relished the adrenaline and challenge.
“It came easy to me,” Gilliam said.
That Lambert coach encouraged him that day three years ago to take up diving the next high school season and seek out further instruction. So that summer, before his sophomore year, Gilliam attended a diving camp with the Atlanta Diving Association.
Practicing on Wednesdays and Sundays in the evening, Gilliam made it his goal to qualify for the state meet his sophomore season. He did halfway through the season, then placed 19th in Class A-AAAAA.
When Asheley Bell took over Central’s swim program the next season, Gilliam’s regimen got an overhaul. Bell added a diving specialist to the coaching staff, and Gilliam started diving four days a week in addition to swim practice. This season, he practices six days a week. Sometimes he’ll go to Georgia Tech, where he gets private instruction for two to three hours.
“It gets pretty hectic somedays,” Gilliam said. “I’m [at Cumming Aquatic Center] all the time. I practically live here.”
Thinking is Gilliam’s worst enemy on the diving board. He shuns it, tries to escape from it. He doesn’t watch his competition, not wanting to let it threaten his own confidence. Before every dive, Gilliam dries off and practices his dive on solid ground. When he gets on the board, he simply rubs his hands together and jumps.
“Just focus on my own dive and block everything else out,” Gilliam said.
Lately, he’s focused on a new dive, a back one-and-a-half somersault going blind into the water. It’s tough, scary even. For now, he has to rely on his ADA coach to call out in the middle of the dive when to uncork his body so he doesn’t crash on impact.
“It’s really nerve-wracking,” Gilliam said.
But Gilliam is programed to handle that mental tightrope from the cliff diving near his friend’s house, the kayaking and mountain climbing, the years of leaping and twisting on his trampoline.
Gilliam knows the only way to conquer those nerves will be the same that gets him on the podium at this season’s state meet with a top 3 finish, that hopefully one day earns him a scholarship to dive at the University of Georgia.
“You just have to go for it and try it out,” Gilliam said. “Sometimes you’ll flop, and it hurts bad, but you have to get back up on the board and just keep trying until you nail it. You’ll be thrilled after that. That rush that you accomplished something and achieved that goal, it makes the sport so much better.”