Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson has returned to competitive platform diving and is trying to qualify for her fourth Olympics at the age of 43 – 13 years after she retired.
Now twice her age when she took home the gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Houston native opened up about her comeback to the Today show Friday, just days before she competes in the U.S. Olympic Trials diving finals.
“I’m a little surprised I’m doing it, honestly,” the mother of four said of her efforts to secure a spot on Team USA for next month’s Olympics in Tokyo. “When I retired at 30, I was old then, so this whole trip was just a crazy, fun road.”
Inspirational: Platform diver Laura Wilkinson opened up on Friday’s Today show about her bid to qualify for her fourth Olympics at age 43
Big moment: Earlier this week, the platform diver qualified for the final of the US Olympic trials on Sunday
At her first Olympics in 2000, Wilkinson became the first American woman in 36 years to win gold in 10 meters of platform diving. She competed in two more Olympics before retiring from the sport in 2008.
A decade later, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair the damage to her neck after years of cutting through the water at high speeds.
Wilkinson was warned she may never be able to dive again after the 2018 procedure, but she took the risk.
“That’s just who I am,” she said. ‘If you really feel called to do something, you should be all-in. It will never be an easy road, but that makes the journey worth it.
Legacy: At her first Olympics in Sydney in 2000, Wilkinson became the first American woman in 36 years to win gold in 10-meter platform diving
Career: Wilkinson (pictured in the 2000 Olympics) competed in two more Olympics before retiring in 2008
Comeback: In 2018, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair the damage to her neck after years of diving at high speeds
“When you get to the other side, whether you achieve all your goals and your dreams or not, when you go through all that, it refines you as a person, it goes through that fire and you get better in that process.”
Wilkinson documented her recovery on her YouTube canal, explaining that she had two degenerated discs from her neck and bone spurs. During the 90-minute procedure, surgeons used implants to graft and place the bone together a titanium plate behind her esophagus.
Her husband, Eriek Hulseman, their four children, and her parents, Ed and Linda Wilkinson, were in the audience this week to cheer her on at the Indiana University Natatorium as she qualified for the finals, finishing in ninth place. .
“I feel like God has made it very clear that I need to be here,” she said. “When doors were closed and we thought there was no way through, He made a way. He opened doors that weren’t there before.
Overcoming the odds: Wilkinson (pictured in 2017) said she is thrilled to be able to compete again, saying, “I feel like God has made it very clear that this is where I need to be”
Bond: The Olympian recently shared this photo of her getting a pep talk from Kenny Armstrong, her 28-year-old coach, before entering the trials
Support System: Wilkinson’s four children have encouraged her every step of the way
“I feel like this is exactly where I need to be, I don’t know why, but I love doing this again. Who knows how long that will be, but I’m just trying to love and enjoy every moment.”
Wilkinson faces stiff competition as only the top two divers of the 12 candidates will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
American Olympians Amy Cozad Magana, Katrina Young and Jessica Parratto, who competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, are all hoping to qualify, as is Delaney Schnell, the 2019 bronze medalist.
Whether she makes it to her fourth Olympics or not, Wilkinson is simply enjoying her comeback.
“I just want to put together a list, I want to do everything the best I can and walk away feeling proud whether I’m on that team or not,” she said.