STRENGTH AND GRACE: Mikaela Lujan dives through adversity, comes away stronger
March 24, 2017
It takes power and grace to be an elite diver.
Mikaela Lujan has plenty of both.
The 2015 Nevada Union grad was nothing short of dominant as a high school diver, winning three straight Sac-Joaquin Section titles from 2013-2015.
Two years into college Lujan earned her way into the NCAA Division I Championships in the 1-meter and 3-meter events while attending the University of South Carolina. Very few divers can put such a feat on their resume — one that Lujan said took lots of perseverance and patience.
After a freshmen season in which Lujan found mild success, she suffered a dislocated elbow in July while competing at USA Diving Senior National Zone Qualifying meet at Texas A&M.
"I actually popped my elbow back into place underwater and obviously I new something was wrong," Lujan said of the injury, which came on a 10-meter dive.
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"When I saw her do it, I wasn't sure she would be able to do the sport again," said South Carolina diving coach Todd Sherritt. "It was that bad."
Lujan underwent modified Tommy John surgery in late July to repair the damage done to her elbow and began the arduous task of rehabbing for a sophomore season that was set to open the first week of October.
"I have an incredible support system here," Lujan said. "My athletic trainer is absolutely awesome. I also have incredible teammates that kept me positive and kept me motivated. Even though the surgery was severe, we had the ability to fix it quickly."
Despite being in what she called a "bionic brace" for months, she did what she could to keep her body in diving shape and just three days before the season, she was cleared to dive 1-meter.
Diving at her home pool, Lujan competed for the first time and placed sixth.
"That was one of the most prideful and happiest days I've had diving in college," said Lujan, who at times feared she would have to redshirt the season. "Even though it wasn't my best meet, it was the first time I was able to dive and compete and I was going to be better than I was before. It was a huge confidence boost."
Lujan would be cleared to dive 3-meter by the end of October, just in time for a meet with Texas A&M at the same venue she suffered her elbow injury just months before.
"It was a weird situation because I walked in and immediately had a bad feeling," she recalled. "But being able to get over that and dive through that and do well in the 3-meter competition felt amazing."
Lujan finished fifth in the 3-meter competition that day.
"She has a determination about her," said Sherritt. "She is able to push herself forward. She's just tough."
Lujan continued to improve throughout the season and was cleared to dive 10-meter or platform for the Southeastern Conference Championships. It was the first sophomore season meet in which she would compete in all three diving events.
"I cannot even express how good these divers are in the SEC," Lujan said. "It's one of the best conferences for diving. It is tough. I was competing against multiple Olympians."
She would score points for her team in all three events, placing eighth in the 1-meter and earning an invitation to the 2017 NCAA DI zone meet in Auburn, Alabama. She finished third on 1-meter, 11th on 3-meter, and 15th on platform to earn a spot at the 2017 NCAA DI National Championships in Indianapolis.
Lujan competed in the 1-meter and 3-meter events at the national championships, but did not reach the finals in either event.
Through it all, Lujan said she learned a lot about herself, her weaknesses, her ability to deal with stress and her ability to persevere.
Her goal now is to reach the finals in all three diving events at both the SEC Championships and NCAA Championships. A goal that is not out of reach, said Sherritt.
"She's extremely powerful and she's got a lot of grace to her," he said. "She's smooth. It's a real great combination."
Sherritt added if Lujan can clean up her entry, the sky is the limit for her.
"I've had four Olympians and lots of talent come and go, and she's as talented as any of them," he said.
Lujan, a biology major and business minor, said she is enjoying her college experience. And, despite a rigorous schedule filled with practice, classes and travel, Lujan said she is maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
"I absolutely love it here," she said. "It's been crazy moving across the country from somewhere I'm so comfortable living to somewhere thats totally different. South Carolina is very different from California, but I'm enjoying it."
Lujan added her schedule doesn't leave a lot of room for leisure, but during the fall she enjoys taking in a Gamecocks football game and all the pageantry that comes with SEC football.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.