More than a decade after leaving home as a child to begin diving competitively, and across an ocean and half a continent, Yu Zhou became an NCAA national champion for the Gophers.

“My mom sent me to Beijing so I could learn how to dive,” Zhou said. “Since I was 9, I lived there. … I lived with divers and roommates and classmates. It’s not normal. It’s unique.”

But the long journey seemed worth every mile on March 20 when the Wuhan, China, native finished in the top five of all three diving events at the national meet, including winning the 3-meter springboard, in her first year of college competition. A month before, she also won both springboard events and claimed silver on the 10-meter platform at the Big Ten championships.

The idea of studying abroad had intrigued Zhou as a teen. Her parents, however, urged her to stay; the two-hour flight from Wuhan to Beijing was far enough for them.

She considered giving up diving after battling injuries, but the opportunity to earn a scholarship and college education kept her going and she landed in Minnesota.

“I love to stay with my friends, so we have the same thinking,” Zhou said. “I’ve learned a lot of things here.”

JASON GONZALEZ