Darah Ostrom's Division I college athletics dream appeared lost to repeated injuries.
Two broken ankles and a concussion conspired against her growth as a high-level gymnast. Once a club teammate of future Olympic Gold Medalist Suni Lee, Ostrom quit gymnastics. But she never abandoned being an athlete. As a sophomore, she turned to high school swimming and especially diving, a sport requiring gymnastics-like abilities, for competition and community.
Now a senior at Mounds View, Ostrom has ranked as high as ninth in the state for an 11-dive score and has garnered All-American consideration. She also contributes in freestyle and butterfly events, making her a rare athlete who competes both above and within the water.
Ostrom, a two-time Mustangs' captain, competes on Saturday at Stillwater in the True Team Class 2A, Section 4 meet. She will dive and also compete in three swimming events. She spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about the logistical grind of practicing, watching Lee win gold and the thrill of seeing once dashed college athletics dreams become tangible once again.
Q: I'm told doing both swimming and diving requires you train at two different schools at different times of the day. What is your typical schedule?
A: I swim before school at Chippewa Middle School two days a week. Then afterschool I go to Edgewood Middle School for diving. The other two days, I go to Edgewood afterschool to dive. And then after that, I stay there to practice swimming with my North Suburban Aquatic Center swim club. On Saturdays I double-up, too.
Q: How has this been going?
A: Every year, I always think I'm going to manage it better. But somehow it always gets busier. It's a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of writing out my daily schedule in my planner. Because I have to take it day-by-day. If I have to study four hours at night, I can't always wake up at 5 a.m. for swimming the next morning.
Q: Do you take pride in not only making this work, but performing at a pretty high level?
A: Yeah, definitely. It's my senior year and I want to make a good final push and give it everything I have.
Q: As a gymnast, you trained with Suni Lee at Midwest Gymnastics. What was that experience like?
A: She was obviously at a much higher level than me. But we were all on the same team and we were friends. I do have her phone number but we haven't talked in awhile. It's fine; I understand because she is super busy.
Q: What did you think as you watched her win a gold medal?
A: Everything just clicked for her at the right time. She peaked at the perfect time.
Q: What were your gymnastics goals?
A: First, it was the Olympics. But more realistically, I definitely wanted to go Division I. I was trying to get to Level 10 but when I got to Level 9, I hit a point where I couldn't imagine myself at the college level anymore. I had broken both my ankles about a year before I quit. And I got a concussion that same season. So then, I wasn't making progress the way I wanted to. I was kind of stuck and not loving it anymore.
Q: Were you concerned about leaving gymnastics from the social standpoint?
A: I still talk to a lot of my gymnastics friends. But gymnastics is such an individual sport. The team aspect was there, but not like swimming and diving. I had one friend in swimming so I wasn't sure how it would be to join the high school team. But the girls are great and it's an amazing community. If I would have stayed in gymnastics, I wouldn't have had that experience.
Q: Was there anything you gained from gymnastics that transferred into diving?
A: My spatial awareness, for sure. And I picked up on twisting and flipping pretty easily. The scariest thing, though, was landing on my head going into the water. That took some getting used to.
Q: Do you have any plans to pursue swimming or diving in college?
A: Yes, I am looking at diving, mostly at the Division I level.
Q: So you lost out on your gymnastics dreams to compete in college, you switched sports, and now your dream is back in play. That's got to be satisfying.
A: It definitely is. I was a little disappointed when I couldn't see gymnastics working out for me. Now it's within my reach as a diver. It's definitely doable.