Ebenezer Ojo knows all about perseverance.

The Simley senior became the first African-American to win a diving state championship, taking first place in the Class 1A meet with a score of 436.45 points last weekend at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. It was his initial appearance in the event.

“It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulder,” Ojo said. He came to the United States from Nigeria as a 3-year-old with his mother. His father was already living here after winning a citizenship lottery two years earlier. “I was ecstatic.”

It was also a sense of relief for Ojo, who always has struggled in the section meet. He qualified for the state event with a third-place finish in the Section 1 meet. The previous two years he failed to qualify for state by one spot.

“I’ve never been great in the section meets,” Ojo said. “It’s been a huge disappointment for me.”

It also comes two years after losing his diving coach, Dick Clark, to cancer.

“I wouldn’t be the diver I am today without him,” Ojo said. “Losing him was a huge blow, not just for me but all of my teammates, too,” Ojo said. “He really impacted me.”

It marked the second consecutive year Simley won the event. Nathan Stone, who claimed the title as a senior in 2016, was in attendance to watch Ojo’s feat.

“I was finally able to show my full potential,” Ojo said. “I can’t think of a better way to end my season.”

RON HAGGSTROM