When you enter into a room with Grace Reid there is one thing you cannot fail to notice, her smile.
It is the look of an athlete who is truly at peace with her life both in and out of the pool and why shouldn’t she be?
2018 was a breakthrough year for Grace as she became both a European and Commonwealth gold medalist in the 3m and 1m springboard respectively.Embed from Getty Images
This was just another chapter in the promising career of the 22-year-old diver.
She announced herself aged just 14 by competing in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, before becoming European champion for the first time in 2016, with victory in the Mixed 3m synchro alongside partner Tom Daley. She also claimed bronze in the 3m springboard to become the first Scot to win an individual diving medal at the championships since 1954. The pair followed that up with a World Championship silver the following year.
Reid’s upward trajectory, and that of her teammates, means that when British diving success is discussed, Daley’s name is no longer the only one in the conversation and there is a growing belief that Britain are on the path to becoming one of the world’s leading nations in the sport.
“I definitely think we’re one on the leading nations now; people are starting to take notice of us so were definitely doing something right. We were away in Japan and they were filming our weight sessions. We weren’t doing anything particularly interesting, but they were looking and saying oh what are they doing? and we were really caught off guard.
“There’s definitely been a shift, we’ve got so much depth and so much talent in Great Britain, we’re so fortunate.”
Grace is now fully settled in London after moving from her home in Edinburgh in 2017 to take advantage of the Olympic Park’s state of the art facilities and become Daley’s regular training partner. After a rough start, where she admits to crying in her flat, she has grown to love London life.
“I did everything wrong in that first week and got that fear but it’s scary how quickly you adapt. One of the things I love is that there’s always something going on, you’re never bored. There’s a real sense of purpose here that I really like.”Embed from Getty Images
Her partnership with Daley has continued to blossom with the pair winning three bronzes and a silver together in the previous four rounds of the FINA World Diving Series in the Synchronised 3m springboard. Grace hails the pair’s unique bond as the secret to their success.
“I’ve been on teams with Tom since I was 7. We really have come through the ranks together and I guess now there’s a different relationship because we’re synchno partners, which probably isn’t something we would have thought about when we were younger, but it’s really exciting.
“I think his wealth of knowledge and his passion for the sport is something that just rubs off on everyone and it’s so humbling when we train with Tom. All the GB team are so passionate and grounded, it’s such a nice environment to be around, and Tom has really opened the door for that to be possible.”
As well as Daley, Grace has another important role-model and that is her hero, Beyonce. While the diva may not be the obvious choice of hero for a professional athlete, in a sport that is all about performance, it appears there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from the 23-time Grammy winner’s career.
“I channel a lot of her when I’m competing. She’s very good at switching between the on-stage and off-stage mentality and when I dive, I feel like I am on a stage. People usually say I’m really unapproachable in competition but that’s good, you’re switching into that zone to help you focus.
“I’ve watched many a documentary and she’s amazing at it. When she’s at home with her family, that’s her as a person. That’s helpful for me when my diving isn’t great. I need to be able to switch off and be with my friends. So that separation is something I try to mimic from her, and her dancing, that too.”Embed from Getty Images
Grace has previously spoken about her struggles after the 2010 Commonwealth Games and how she contemplated quitting diving to be ‘normal.’ The truth is though she is not normal and that is a good thing. Few people possess such an ability and an eagerness to pursue a sport which involves hurtling head-first into a pool of water from great heights.
At the age of 4, she spotted a girl at her local pool doing a handstand on the 10m board and begged her mother to let her have a go and that was it. The key for Grace was not to quit but find the right balance and she has achieved this through meditation and her interests away from diving.
“It’s not something I could have ever seen myself doing, and then when I gave it a chance, I did Headspace, and I thought wow, I actually feel pretty good. I stuck with it, it really does take some getting used to, and now it’s one of my non-negotiables, in the same way eating breakfast is.
“If you don’t start the day on a level playing field, you don’t stand a chance. So, it really helps me start right and keep two feet on the ground.
“I love to read, I stopped reading for a while when I was at uni because it got very boring reading journals but now, I’m getting back into it and I love cooking and baking. I make a mean banana bread.”
All of these factors have contributed to where Grace finds herself now; already putting herself in the conversation as one of Britain’s great female divers, with a whole career still ahead of her. However, the journey has not been without its challenges; constant doubts about whether she is good enough remain, but Grace feels that she is now a stronger person and better able to deal with those feelings and deliver in the crunch moments.
“It’s something I’ve spoken with a lot of people about recently and it’s something I still struggle with today. In a sport like diving where it’s a perfectionist sport, it’s really easy to get despondent and be really hard on yourself.
“You’re always your own worst critic, but something that I’m trying to learn and teach the girls that I coach is to accept it might not be perfect but to acknowledge improvements each day. I think it keeps you sane, otherwise it’s not healthy.
“It’s absolutely terrifying to think I’ve done three Commonwealth Games and I’m only 22. In 2014, I was the baby of the team, there for experience. I popped off to India for a few weeks, did some diving and came home and didn’t think much of it, which helped me dive well.
“But third time around people were talking about me getting a medal. There was pressure and that’s something I’ve never really experienced before and I think that shift of being able to recognise the pressure is on and there’s a job to do is something I’d not really seen in myself before 2018 and I’m starting to see it a bit more now.”Embed from Getty Images
While diving can sometimes seem a lonely sport, Grace knows she can always count on the support of her teammates. With Matty Lee also making the move to London, GB’s squad looking ahead to Tokyo is now all under one roof and the effects are starting to show. The camaraderie and the connection everyone feels to one another is something that Grace insists benefits the whole team.
“We’re all a bit nuts, you’ve got to have a bit of a screw loose if you’re chucking yourself off a 10m board. We’re all a little bit wild, a little bit chaotic, so we’re really like minded and I think were in an environment where everyone is just allowed to be themselves.
“There’s a really nice acceptance amongst all the athletes and it really does feel like a family. We all hang out away from the pool and are really fortunate diving has brought people like that into our lives.
“I do think the team environment really helps people relax. When you’re away at competitions there is a lot of pressure and I think having familiar faces and a supportive team around you is a massive asset.”
As it turns out, one of the most competitive parts of the week’s training doesn’t take place in the pool but instead on the ping-pong table.
“So, if you go into the dry dive room, we have a table tennis table. I would say spend around 20 minutes a session playing. Granted, it may seem a little bit ridiculous but it’s really good pressure training.
“We play high stakes, if you get out first or you win the game you only have to do two pieces of your competition dives, so actually, even though it’s not technically part of training, it’s quite fun.”Embed from Getty Images
Next up for Grace is the finale of the World Diving Series, which has returns to London for the first time since 2015 and she is determined to keep for mind on that rather than looking ahead to the World Championships in July and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“London has the advantage that it’s the grand finale so it’s going to be the biggest and the best but I’m taking it step by step. As much as we’ve got one eye on the World Champs and in 18 months the Olympics, that’s where our main ambition is, going too far ahead means you lose track of what you’re doing here and now, so were trying to go week by week and day by day when we can.”
Featured photograph/ Scottish Swimming