When I first spoke about the possibility of writing a piece on you, I thought I was going to do a news story. However, there are some feelings that so-called “objective journalism” will never be able to capture.
I met you for the first time in 2012. You were in matric and I was in Grade 10. You were staying with my uncle and his family at the time.
I was quite a shy boy in general back then, but there was something particularly intimidating about you that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Don’t get me wrong. You were the sweetest girl. I’ll actually never forget what a great mentor you were to Sarah. (To cut a long family story short for outsiders reading, let’s just say Sarah is my little cousin – and an exceptionally talented young diver.)
Anyway, back to the point, for some reason, I was incredibly scared to speak in your presence – in a similar way to how I was frozen with fear the day I met Fernando Torres.
Looking back, I think I sensed something in you. On the surface, you were as warm as anyone, but underneath that warmth, there was a fire. You never said it out loud, but wherever you went, your quiet aura that screamed: “Don’t try to compete with me at any game I care about, because no matter who you are, you’ll lose.”
I swore I’d never confess this to an interviewee, but I must admit that even now, I’m still a little bit scared of you.
I remember your tattoo – a symbol standing for “courage”. (My dad once asked you how you could be sure that it didn’t actually mean “gullible white girl,” but that’s besides the point.)
As I got to know you, it became very clear that courage meant far more to you than just a drawing on your skin. I remember how, even at the tender age of 18, you spoke about the Olympics as if diving in it was your destiny – no “ifs,” “buts,” or “maybes”.
In the end, it was a dream you were willing to move to the other end of the globe (South Carolina, USA) to fulfill. I’m glad you’re finally in an environment where you have access to the facilities you deserve.
As you may well know, my career goal is to cover the Barclays Premier League. Sometimes, my eyes well up just thinking about it. But the thought of it is daunting. I haven’t lived outside South Africa since I was five years old and I can hardly even cook. How am I going to move continents and start all over again?
I don’t know the answer, to be honest, but I don’t think you knew how you were going to do it either. All you knew was that somehow, you would find a way. When I look at you, I know that anything is possible.
As I’m sure you’ve come to realise, some of the athletes who are idolised around the globe are the most tedious, self-absorbed, entitled, narcissistic little farts you can ever dream of meeting.
You are living proof that sometimes, just sometimes, good things do happen to good people.
I don’t need to wish you good luck for tomorrow’s big competition. You know what to do. There’s no pressure. You’re already my hero no matter what happens.
The only thing I ask of you is this: no matter what the outcome is, don’t think that this is the end.
You seemed more tentative than usual when I asked you whether or not you actively thought about winning an Olympic medal one day.
You shouldn’t even be thinking twice. I know you. You can do anything.
This is your moment. Go out there and live your dream.
If we don’t meet again before Tokyo 2020, I’ll see you there.
Leonard “Mowgli” Solms