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El-Lana Coleman decided to try her hand at diving as a junior and enjoyed a solid debut season on the board at North Haven. (Photo courtesy of El-Lana Coleman )
After spending eight years participating in gymnastics, El-Lana Coleman saw her time on the mat come to an abrupt end when she suffered a bruised spine in 8th grade. After spending some time away from athletics, El-Lana wanted to get involved again, so she joined the North Haven girls’ swimming and diving team last fall and found her niche on the diving board.
“At first, I didn’t want to do the sport. A lot of my friends said I should do it since I had done gymnastics,” says El-Lana, a junior. “I was kind of scared of doing flips again, because I got an injury in gymnastics. It caused me to be more scared to do it again. My parents told me this could be the second time I could do something I love to do. So, I gave it a try.”
El-Lana trained at In-Flight Gymnastics Center in West Haven when she competed in gymnastics. El-Lana was always doing flips around the house as a kid, and her mother Kim wanted her to have a place to get her energy out, instead of “knocking all the lamps down in the house.”
A few years ago, El-Lana was practicing her tumbling when she bruised her spine. El-Lana experienced constant pain from her injury and, even when she was cleared to return to action, she was stressed over the fear that she could potentially re-injure her back.
During her freshman year, El-Lana heard a North Haven swimmer talking to incoming students about potentially joining the team. Shortly thereafter, El-Lana’s mom and her father Elvon started encouraging her to give it a shot.
After sitting out her first two years of high school, El-Lana decided to try diving as a junior. When she signed up for the squad, El-Lana was greeted by a group of new teammates who motivated her to be her best.
“It was a very fun experience. The teammates were more than supportive. Watching them and being a part of the team, it really was like being a part of a family,” El-Lana says. “Even if I doubted myself in some situations, my teammates would say, ‘Nice job,’ and, ‘Looking good.’ They’d make uplifting comments. I was able to grow by having a support system in my team.”
As a diver, El-Lana knew she would be able to do some of same stunts that she did in gymnastics, but thought that it would be safer. El-Lana felt nervous about learning a new sport at first. However, once she got the hang of it, El-Lana realized that diving gave her the same joy she got from gymnastics.
“It was very different. I had to start over and learn different ways to approach skills I did on the floor. I was very nervous, as well,” says El-Lana. “It was a change in what I was used to doing, but doing it brought back the fun and joy I had when I was doing it in gymnastics. I still had the same love for both those sports. When I got in the pool, I realized I liked this, and I wanted to keep doing it.”
El-Lana turned in the best performance of her young career so far when North Haven faced Mercy and Hamden in a virtual meet last October. In only her fifth competition, El-Lana recorded a score of 172.43 points to set a lifetime-best total.
“It was exciting. I felt like I achieved something big,” says El-Lana. “I went into this sport thinking I wasn’t going to be all that good. I thought it was going to take me a lot of time. When they told me my score, I was very shocked.”
El-Lana credits much of her early success in diving to her background as a gymnast. She also appreciates all the support that she’s received from both her family, her teammates, North Haven’s diving coach Bob Lewis, and Head Coach Martha Phelan.
As she looks ahead to her senior season, El-Lana’s main goal is to continue growing in the sport and become the best diver that she can be. With a year of experience under her belt, El-Lana has gained a better understanding of diving and wants to excel as a senior.
A few years ago, it seemed as though El-Lana’s injury might prevent her from doing sports. However, as a diver for North Haven, El-Lana has found a new love in athletics and the perfect avenue in which she can express that passion.
“The sport just brings back those good, fun memories I had from doing gymnastics. It’s a sport that doesn’t cause me as much injury. It’s a safe place for me,” El-Lana says. “But it’s not just a safe place. It’s another family here.”