For years, David Boudia worked hard to never make a ripple.
Day after day, he launched himself into the air in a quest for the perfect dive, one in which he’d knife through the water’s surface without displacing more than a few drops.
Yet when Boudia finally achieved his dream, upsetting the reigning world champion to win the gold medal in the 10-meter platform at the London 2012 Olympic Games, he discovered he’d made a much bigger splash than he’d ever imagined.
The day after winning gold, he flew to New York for a two-day media tour and appearances on the Today show, CNN, Inside Edition, Fox & Friends and Sirius radio, sandwiched around newspaper interviews and other appearances.
It was, he said, “a whirlwind” in which he felt carried along, hardly able to grasp what had just happened.
“I was like, I don’t even know what’s real right now,” he said, laughing.
Since then, it’s been more interviews, a trip to the national diving championships in North Carolina to speak to younger divers, meetings with his agent to discuss sponsorships and speaking engagements and a big welcome-home celebration in his hometown of Noblesville, Ind., this past Sunday that he called “a huge honor.”
Now back at his home in West Lafayette, Ind., to resume classes at Purdue University as a fifth-year senior, Boudia says he’s finally been able to catch his breath.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “Two weeks ago I was in London, and now I’m back, a normal kid, normal classes. I kind of like it. A lot.”
He said he’s found pleasure in going back to class, mowing his lawn and “getting back into the swing of things.”
He’s finally able to reflect on what he accomplished in London.
“It’s back to real life and, like I said, I love going back to real life,” he said. “It’s obviously a special moment to represent your country at the Olympic Games; that’s always been a dream of mine. And then to actually win the gold, which is another dream fulfilled, it’s just cool to be in this situation and to be thankful for everything that’s been put into it.
“But coming back to the United States, sitting down, unpacking, doing laundry, doing normal stuff, is kind of like a breath of fresh air, you know? When you come from West Lafayette — I’m from the Midwest, conservative, definitely — I don’t know, I don’t like the big-city life and the lights and the fame. Honestly, it comes along with the job and I’m thankful to be in that kind of spotlight because I can promote my platform — but I like normal, you know?”
Boudia’s new normal isn’t quite like his old normal, however.
There’s something about becoming the first U.S. man to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10-meter platform since Greg Louganis in 1988 — and knocking off world champion and favorite Qiu Bo of China with the dive of his life under pressure on worldwide TV — that suddenly puts your name, face and story in front of millions of Americans.
No longer is he another 23-year-old walking across campus.
“It’s definitely a lot different than it was,” he said. “You can walk 5 feet and someone approaches you and says, ‘Congratulations,’ or “I watched you,’ and it’s neat. I don’t think I’ve gone anywhere in West Lafayette or the Lafayette area where I haven’t been recognized, so it’s totally different, but nice.”
Perhaps his greatest thrill was the event in Noblesville on Sunday which he called “incredible.”
Hundreds of people packed the Noblesville High gym to give him an official welcome home after winning his gold and bronze (in synchronized diving with partner Nick McCrory). His highlights were shown on a big screen, the mayor and a state representative took part and Boudia was able to speak to the crowd and take questions.
Boudia looked into the crowd and saw his family, friends, former teachers and classmates and said it gave him a very special feeling. He especially was touched when he was told the diving well in the pool where he learned to dive would be named in his honor.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of people there from the community just to support me and welcome me home, and just congratulate me,” he said. “And it’s cool to be able to do something like that because you don’t get this gold medal by yourself. So a large part of that was the community around Noblesville.”
Though the London Games are now over, Boudia already is thinking about the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
He’s determined to compete again in Brazil — he’ll begin training again in December — and says those Games are part of a bigger five-year plan for his life that includes graduating from Purdue with a degree in communications, marrying his fiancée Sonnie in October, doing speaking engagements and working with his agent to gain sponsorships. He knows now that the gold medal has given him opportunities and opened doors.
With two Olympic medals and a wedding in the span of two months, however, Boudia knows it’s going to be hard to top 2012 on his life’s calendar.
“We’ll see what happens in 2016, but, wow, it’s a big, incredible year,” he said.
Whether he won a medal in London or not, Boudia said he was going to train for the 2016 Games. That he medaled twice just made everything better.
“Whatever happened, it was always a goal to go to 2016 for a couple of reasons,” he said. “I love diving. It’s my passion in life and I love throwing my body off and doing random, ridiculous flips.
“But also, it’s now my job, and so there’s a big opportunity where I can, you know, provide for my wife and hopefully my family in five, six years from now. This is a cool opportunity that not a lot of people get to do. I’m going to try to do it to my fullest.”
“Fullest” could even include something new — gymnastics.
He’s toyed with the idea of returning to a sport he competed in before diving — while also continuing to dive.
“I’m an idiot, but yeah,” he says, laughing, when asked if he’s truly considering it.
“I now have to go back and see if it’s possible.”