An interesting thing happens when our kids reach that awkward adolescent age: As fiercely as they pull away from us, seeking to establish their independence, we tug back, hoping for just a little more time together.
Sports and fitness provide a limited opportunity. We can show up and cheer at their ballgames. That still falls under the early-teenage code of cool. Some kids of 13 or 14 will also agree to a hike, a run, a bike ride or some tennis with the old man — as long as their friends don’t see it, of course.
Then there’s the story of my friend Gerry Dunn, who found common ground with his 14-year-old daughter in the water, and revived his own fitness program along the way.
Two or three times a week, Gerry and his daughter Brighid, who goes by the nickname “Bridie," fling themselves head over heels off diving boards at the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center in Bethesda, Md. Together.
Gerry, a 52-year-old real estate broker, is a masters diver. Bridie is a freshman who has earned a spot on the competitive Churchill High School swimming and diving team and also dives in club meets.
“I did get on the board, I did lose the weight and I did get back in the pool," Gerry said. “And I’m spending the time with Brighid. And she may occasionally find it a pain in the a--. But I’m cherishing it."
Gerry started walking, worked out an exercise program with a trainer at the gym, cut out the alcohol and excess calories and went on a high-protein diet. Between July and September, he dropped 25 pounds.
About the same time, Bridie, a soccer player and competitive Irish dancer, went off to diving camp. She came back a convert. Gone were soccer and dancing. She now trains as often as six times a week at the sport she loves.
And then Gerry got this idea about maybe, well, y’know, training, like, together.
“She sort of rolled her eyes, like any teenage kid," he said. “Like, ‘Okay, Dad.’"
They joined the Montgomery Dive Club, which includes both teens and adults, and began practicing. Soon came a breakthrough. “Someone said, ‘That old guy did a reverse one-and-a-half, that’s awesome,’ and Brighid said, ‘Oh, that’s my dad,’" Gerry recalled.
A couple of weeks ago, I stood on the pool deck and watched Gerry and Bridie walk to the end of adjacent one-meter boards, turn and balance on the ends with their toes. Then, simultaneously, they sprang high into the air, piked at the waist and back-dived into the water.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to it," Bridie said when I asked about diving with Dad. “I was mostly scared for him. I was scared he was going to hurt himself. He said he probably would."
And he did. When he first resumed diving, Gerry would come home with bruises all over his body from hitting the water incorrectly.
“That’s a dive I used to do in college for 8s and 9s," he said at one point. “Now I’ll score 5s. In my head, I’m still that 18-year-old kid."
Diving obviously requires significant core strength — a pike is essentially a midair double leg lift with nothing to hold on to — and well-stretched muscles. But Gerry says he had forgotten over three decades “how much you need your shoulders, your back and your neck" to complete dives that will score points in competition. He was pretty sore the first month.
Gerry is now after Bridie to enter some synchronized diving competitions together. Maybe she’ll go for it. Maybe she won’t. Even if she doesn’t, the experience has put him back in the pool, improved his fitness and made him part of the small national community of masters divers, who are less rivals than friendly competitors. After meets, they all go out for a meal or a beer together.