The twists and turns of her injury-plagued gymnastics career pushed Brooke Wherley headfirst into the world of competitive diving.
Despite her lack of experience, the Marysville Getchell High School junior is making quite a splash with the Chargers girls swim team in her first year of diving.
Wherley, who overcame early limitations from a rare childhood disease, seemed to come out of nowhere to emerge as one of Washington state’s best high-school female divers.
Amazing, considering Wherley just took up the sport in February. Wherley, already the school-record holder and state qualifier, should be a challenger at the Class 3A state meet Friday and Saturday at King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
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Brooke won the Class 3A Northwest District meet with 406.75 points, the highest score entering state, according to her coach, Jaci LeGore-Hodgins.
It’s not surprising to anyone who knows Wherley and her beat-the-odds mentality.
“Oh my gosh, she’s totally fast-tracked,” said LeGore-Hodgins. “She and her parents are just on it. When you add talent and commitment together, it’s a powerful combination.
“I think the competition is really, really tough in 3A. The thing she has going for her is emotional maturity. She does not have a high-school girl’s brain. This is just someone really special and sharp. Her plan is just so clear, and she’s so well-prepared in every way.”
Wherley needed that kind of maturity to overcome Legg-Calves-Perthes, a childhood disease affecting the hip joint, and to endure six separate surgeries for her disease and gymnastics injuries.
“She just showed up new in the spring, made up her mind and said, ‘I’m going to be a diver,’ ” said LeGore-Hodgins, who heads the Chargers girls swim program along with guiding cross-town Marysville-Pilchuck.
“She’s never missed a day of school or a day of practice. Nowadays, everybody’s sick. Champions don’t get sick. This kid’s never been sick. We’ve never had anybody like this.”
For Wherley, diving is a departure from the pounding of gymnastics. With her disease, which can cause arthritis later in life, and injuries, she’s always dealt with pain while competing.
“I’m not used to doing a sport without feeling pain,” said Wherley, who became a club gymnast at age 7 but took a break for surgeries from 8 to 11. “I usually don’t talk about those (injuries), because I think it shows weakness. Especially toward the end of gymnastics, it got to be super painful.”
At age 12, she dislocated both elbows in practice on the uneven bars, requiring two surgeries. At age 14, she tore the ACL and damaged the meniscus in her right knee on the floor exercise and had major reconstructive surgery.
That’s when her body told her it was time to find a new sport. In February, a friend invited to join her at a recreational diving class. But there were some differences to get used to in the new sport.
“The biggest change was having it be OK for me to land on my head,” she said. “That was something I struggled with in the beginning. In gymnastics, you don’t want to land on your head, and in diving you land on your hands and your head.”
The Chargers’ diving coach, 32-year veteran Dick Caldwell, marvels at the 17-year-old Wherley’s progression from beginner to posting a score at the district meet that gives her All-American consideration.
“Right now, she’s right up there as one of the top divers I’ve had, definitely in the top two or three,” Caldwell said. “With another year, I can see her as a state champion, no problem.”
When Caldwell was ill this season, Wherley even coached her peers in practice.
“She’s really taken over and shown her leadership,” LeGore-Hodgins said. “Rarely do you get to see someone like this with all the qualities she has. We just sit back and watch her and go, ‘Wow!’ ”