Troy Dumais dives at the 2011 FINA World Championships.
Federal Way, Washington – On Sunday, for the second time at the 2012 US Olympic diving trials, three Dumais brothers will attempt to pick each other off in a quest to compete in London. The event will be the men’s 3-meter individual final and, in the stands, some of the most outwardly relaxed people will be their parents, Marc and Kathy, who have raised five elite divers in all.
This is certainly not their first rodeo.
There has been at least one Dumais at every Olympic diving trial since 1996, most often Troy, who made his fourth consecutive Olympic team on Friday (in the 3-meter synchronized event). Justin, the eldest of the five Dumais divers, joined Troy at the 2000 and 2004 Trials, and this year, Troy and Justin have welcomed their baby brother to the mix: Dwight, who turned 26 on Saturday.
No matter which combination is competing, it seems that Trials have usually initiated a mini-drama that has continued to Olympics on three continents.
At the 2000 Trials, between the semifinals and the final – unbeknownst to his parents – Troy passed a kidney stone and still made the team. Then there was Troy’s fourth-place finish in synchronized springboard event in Sydney where he and his partner missed a medal by less than two points. And in 2004, Justin and Troy both went to Athens and placed sixth together in synchro springboard. On top of that remains the protracted sting of Troy’s sixth place finishes in all of his other Olympic events at the past three Games. Most recently, in 2011, Justin made the surprise decision to come out of retirement after serving in Iraq.
Through it all, a mystery remains: how does an unassuming Canadian dentist and his office manager/assistant end up with the most prominent US diving family of the 21st century? Neither parent was a diver growing up.
It was sort of Troy’s fault. As a baby, their second-oldest son, now 32, was on the hyper side, but he loved water.
“It was soothing to him so we sought that,” said Kathy.
Soon, Justin, 33, followed, as did Brice, 31, and Leanne (their only sister), 27. But Dwight, 26, the youngest, really preferred to play hockey.
“I told him he had to learn liquid water before frozen water,” his mother said, “and it worked.”
By 1990, all five children were diving competitively at the Rose Bowl aquatic facilities, 67 miles from their home in Ventura, California.
“It was convenient,” their mother said, “but looooong. We spent as much time at the pool as a coach because they were in all different age categories.” And during meets, the parents had to watch 15 to 17 events.
By 2008, however, most of the family had made it through college, and only three divers remained. In 2004, when Justin temporarily retired, it was down to two. When Justin came back to join Troy and Dwight, the count was back up to three, with sister Leanne in the stands this week.
|Marc and Kathy Dumais|
Justin was offered an academic and an athletic scholarship to USC, but took the academic one. He transferred after two years and ended up at the University of Texas in Austin. “Justin was a reader,” his dad said, and not just of books. “He’d read everything. If a tag fell off your clothes, he’d read it.”
Troy also chose Texas. “Troy was a mover, going all the time,” his mom said.
Brice went to SMU. According to his sister, he was extremely outgoing when he was younger. “He could sell anything,” she said, but he grew more shy as he grew older. He now works as a patent lawyer in Dallas and was married in September.
Leanne dove for Northwestern and is now public school teacher in Chicago, teaching ninth and tenth grade. Her parents called her “intense” and “self-disciplined.”
Dwight dove for Stanford. Asked to describe him, both parents giggled. “He had a lot of shoes to fill,” his mother said, adding, “He would test boundaries.” His dad added that he could jump higher than anyone in the family. But the hockey aficionado also slept under posters of Wayne Gretzky.
Now that the five divers have become college grads, is the mission accomplished?
Yes, and it was worth it, according to their father. “Everyone at some point, won a gold medal in something,” he said, but diving is ultimately subjective and after watching more events since the 1980’s than just about anyone not employed in the sport, he believes “there is no [neutral] judging panel.”
“If we had to choose a sport again, we’d go with a timed event,” their mother said. “They could be disqualified, yes, but if you take the subjectivity out of it, you can get a surprise [result].”
Their father agreed. “I don’t know if we’d do diving.”
Leanne said, “I probably wouldn’t even do athletics. I’d have probably gone into music,” explaining quite candidly that “you become a slave as an athlete. It was hard, especially in college. There are so many rules – like about how many hours you can practice. You are there to compete for them. They [only] care about your talent.”
The upside of the odyssey, however, is that diving has provided the Dumais family with another family. It is an intimate sport, and they have made lifelong friends around the country and around the world.
They cheer freely for good performances and know how it feels when a dive goes unexpectedly wrong.
The difficulty comes when three sons compete at a high-stakes event like Trials, and only the top synchro team and only the top two individuals in each event can make the Olympic squad.
Their father wonders “whether the kids perceive themselves as being more important than the other person [and think], ‘Does mom or dad want me to beat so and so?’” he said. “But I’m down to earth in terms of their skills. I don’t put them on pedestals because I understand their skills. Would it be conceivable for Dwight to get to the Olympics right now? No.”
“We don’t make him bigger than he actually is,” she said, “and we don’t expect him to be bigger than he is.”
Since Dwight is 26 and entering his prime, what if he were to continue to Rio?
“I hope not,” his father said, but not for emotional reasons. It’s hard enough to survive financially as a diver in this country, he explained, but the worsening economy has made it even tougher and corporate support is even harder to gain.
“If they were getting $50,000 a year, maybe they’d all stay in it,” their father said.
“Or, just something livable and constant,” their mother added.
Recently, Troy has been tutoring members of the Longhorns football team to support himself. Justin has been flying F-16s part-time to maintain his status in the Air National Guard and earn an inactive military salary. Dwight has been working as a Junior Olympic coach at the U of Texas.
How long that will sustain them remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, this week, as new generations of diving parents watch their children being initiated into the Olympic circle and the Dumais family prepares to pass the legacy on to other clans, they offered this advice:
“Be willing to commit, because the journey’s incredible, and the journey’s hard,” Mrs. Dumais said. “But the goal is good, and the people are good.”
“To have three at the Trials is amazing,” she said.
“And they all don’t want to kill each other!” Leanne quipped before adding seriously, “The brotherly support is important.”
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.