Austin Energy’s Julie Black electrifies on the high dive.
Story and photos by Gretchen M. Sanders
Julie Black kicked up to a handstand at the FINA World Masters Diving Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Upside down on a 10-meter platform, she counted to three, tipped forward and fell into a roll, stopping her rotation in time for a clean entry into a deep pool below.
That dive, an armstand somersault, scored high enough to land Black fourth place in the individual platform competition. That’s fourth place in the world! She would make the podium two more times before the meet’s end, taking gold in the mixed synchro platform and silver in the mixed synchro springboard events.
Black, an economist for Austin Energy, has always loved the water and the feeling of flying. She grew up in Missouri, participating in gymnastics but switching to diving in high school. Columbia University later recruited her for its diving team, offering her an athletic grant that paid half her college tuition. Black became Columbia’s first female diver to compete from freshman year through graduation. Later, she earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Alabama.
At 48, she still performs the same dives she did in her 20s.
“I love the feeling of moving through the air, the rotation, the speed,” says Black, who dives and swims for Longhorn Aquatics Masters.
When she’s not at the Texas Swimming Center, she’s busy working with engineers and alternative-energy enthusiasts to develop sustainable fuel sources. Black, who drives an electric car and ponders energy conservation more than most people, believes electricity is a viable answer to the transportation-fuel-source dilemma.
“The electric grid can be powered by many different resources, and electricity is everywhere,” she says. “We have multiple options for powering electric vehicles, if we put our minds to it.”
Black sees a parallel in the intricate timing of an electrical grid and hitting a dive. Goodness knows she creates her own kind of electricity when she soars from 10 meters.
Here’s how this alternative-energy champion stays fit for gold.
“I eat a frozen banana first thing every morning. Then I rush to get ready for Masters swim practice at UT. I’m usually running late, so I don’t have time to do much else. I listen to NPR in my car on the way to the pool and work. I like catching up on the news. I’m pretty out of touch with pop culture.”
“I strive to do as many Masters swimming and diving workouts each week as possible. I love to start my day swimming and end it diving. Sometimes that means I do four morning swims and four evening diving practices in one week. I bike to work at least once during the week and run on two nights. I’ll do a longer run on Saturday mornings and a group bike ride on Sundays. Cross-training keeps me busy. I don’t have a family, and it definitely fulfills me. I love my hobbies.”
“I try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Bananas are so easy and they taste so good. I’m not much of a cook, but I want to be healthy. I love to pick up salmon or chicken from Central Market’s deli. Protein shakes also work great on the go. I probably drink too much coffee, but then, I don’t have a sweet tooth and alcohol doesn’t fit into my training schedule. I guess it all balances out.”
“Diving requires a good swimsuit. Awhile back, I discovered Summer Suits, a local company that makes custom suits for divers. They look nice and come in all colors. I also wear Tiger Paw wrist guards when I dive from the platform. They protect my wrists from impact on the water. I warm up in shorts and a T-shirt, using an elastic band for exercises that keep my shoulders strong. Most divers also have a shammy, a small towel that dries the skin quickly and makes it easier to grab the legs in a tuck. I got mine from To Die For Shammies. It’s tie-dyed! I wouldn’t say it’s my good-luck charm, but as any diver would agree, a shammy is an absolute necessity during practice or a meet. We do grow quite attached to them.”
“When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. That didn’t happen. I guess diving, flying high through the air, is the next closest thing. Competing in meets balances out my work. I can forget everything else and focus on improving my dives. You always feel like you can get better. My sports are very important to me. I need to do them the way people need to breathe. My equilibrium gets out of whack if I go too long without my exercise routine.”
“The correct mindset is one of the hardest things to figure out about diving. You must have a certain level of relaxation and zen. Diving requires emotional and psychological stability on conscious and subconscious levels. It’s much more mental than any of the other endurance sports I do. What’s happening beneath the surface plays a huge part in how divers perform.”
“I saw a sports psychologist after a bad diving crash in 2015. He made me a tape that I play at night to set my mind at ease. He just talks and says reassuring things, attempting to eradicate any negative thoughts, my gremlins.”