Krysta Palmer at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Diving on June 8, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Krysta Palmer is well-acquainted with long journeys full of detours and challenges.
Not only is she a first-time Olympian at age 29, Palmer is also a member of the Iron Butt Association.
On June 10, 2012, Palmer rode behind her father on a motorcycle as they covered 1,200 miles in 24 hours. Along the way, they had to go to designated locations – with Palmer prowling around graveyards in the middle of the night and taking selfies next to road signs.
“It was pretty wild,” she said. “It was basically a scavenger hunt on a motorcycle. Iron Butt is true because it is painful sitting on a motorcycle for almost 24 hours.”
At that point in her life, Palmer was almost 20 years old and hadn’t even begun diving.
Exactly nine years later on June 10, 2021, Palmer qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 3-meter springboard synchronized diving with partner Allison Gibson. Two days later, Palmer won the 3-meter springboard individual event and the next day she turned 29.
It’s been quite the odyssey for Palmer to reach this stage of her career with iron will taking the place of iron butt. And there’s been some pain too along the way.
Palmer’s athletic career started at age five when she began gymnastics to learn skills in lieu of somersaulting off the couch. Palmer had her first surgery at age 12 after tearing the patellar tendon on her left knee on a tumbling pass -- a rare injury for a child.
The Gardnerville, Nevada, native then gravitated toward trampoline, competing for eight years and rising to age group national champion with an eye toward the Olympics. But she blew out her right knee twice.
“Trampoline is really hard on your body,” Palmer said. “When you hit the trampoline, you weigh almost two times your body weight and so it’s a lot of pressure on your ankles, your knees, your hips -- all your joints in general.”
The second injury to her right knee occurred when she was 18 and training with an elite team in California. Palmer tore ligaments five days before she was scheduled to leave for the world age group championships in Paris.
A Huge Disappointment
Even though her knee was the size of a softball, she still traveled to cheer for her team.
“That was a huge heartbreak for me because I wanted so badly to compete for Team USA,” said Palmer whose grandfather, Norman Palmer, was an elite ski racer and later a golfer who regularly played with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “I had been training so hard and I looked so good on the trampoline. We were a little under two years away from Olympic Trials. I knew it would take a year to get the recovery done and come back and bounce back from it.”
Because of hip problems, however, she decided to drop athletics and focus on academics. Palmer went to community college in her hometown of Carson City, Nevada, moving back in with her parents.
“I just decided, ‘Hey, okay, we still have education,’” she said.
Her athletic road wasn’t finished though; it just needed another sharp turn. A friend who was a diver invited Palmer to watch him dive at the local community center pool. Then he said, “What can you do?”
“Everything I could do was all to my feet because that’s all I ever knew,” Palmer said. “So I did a front full twist to my feet and he said, ‘Wow, let’s just try to pull it around to your head.’ Why not? So the next time I get up on the board and I do front full twist and a 1½ and I just tried to duck it into a dive -- and I kind of made it.”
Her friend encouraged her to call the diving coach at the University of Nevada in Reno. Jian Li You, a champion Chinese diver who missed the 1980 Olympics because of the boycott, invited Palmer to come up for a meeting. She became a walk-on student-athlete in January 2013.
Palmer tried all three collegiate events: 1-meter and 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform. Because the school didn’t have a tower on campus, the Wolf Pack team flew 40 minutes to Stanford University for weekend training once or twice a month.
“My career has kind of gone in stages,” Palmer said. “My freshman year my coach kept telling me, ‘You’ll learn. Keep working hard. Keep going for it and I’ll reward you. Let’s see how far we can go.’”
She progressed to a full-ride scholarship and then made her first USA national team.
“Our dreams just kept getting bigger,” Palmer said, “so here we are.”