Olympic diver Chris Colwill is coming home to develop young divers he hopes may one day follow in his footsteps.
Colwill, who competed in the 2008 Games in Beijing and this year's in London, is organizing a diving program for the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center, where he started as a 5-year-old swimmer.
"I have great memories of this place so it really gives warmth to my heart to give back," Colwill said. "The kids just want to have fun here and that's the whole concept of the program, for the kids to have fun while learning."
Colwill will host a free dive clinic from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the aquatic center, 405 Beverly Blvd.
About 20 youngsters, ages 5 to 15, turned out last Saturday for the first clinic. Some had never tried diving, others were training with an eye on diving competitively at college.
Abigail Crosby, 10, took her first real dives at the event.
"It was really fun. He has already taught me the one-step dive," Crosby said. "He makes it fun but also shows you how to do it right."
Diana Cessna's son, Mason, 5, watched Colwill compete at the London Olympics. Colwill made it to the semifinals of the men's 3-meter springboard event.
"He was really excited to meet Chris," Cessna said. "We are so lucky and blessed to have someone of this level of skill living in our neighborhood."
"He's very experienced but he's still young, said Allyson Nied, 15, of Lithia, "so he knows how to relate better to younger swimmers."
Nied, who takes diving classes in Orlando and hopes to compete on the collegiate level, is thinking of signing up for Colwill's March diving course.
"He already helped me today by correcting some of my dives," she said.
Colwill, 28, trained at BSAC through his high school years at Tampa Preparatory School. He went on to attend the University of Georgia, where he was the 2006 NCAA Diver of the Year, and earned medals at the NCAA Championships, Southeastern Conference Championships, U.S. Open, Canadian Cup and FINA World Championships.
"He's a perfect fit for us," said Chuck Burgess, BSAC's executive director. "He has competed at the highest level and has a presence about him that gives him a connection with the kids."
Whereas some elite athletes find it difficult to coach others who are not as skilled, Colwill easily relates to youngsters, Burgess said.
"He's a real person. Even when you talk to him about the Olympics he's very humble. You can tell he truly cares, and not just about the elite athletes, but all the kids. He will make that transition to being a coach very easily."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, whose district includes the Greater Brandon area, was also on hand to present Colwill and Niko Milosavljevic with commendations on behalf of the commission.
Milosavljevic, 13, a swimmer for the Blue Wave Swim Team at the aquatic center, placed third at the Zadar Marathon Swim in Croatia earlier this year, completing the 3-mile swim in 57 minutes, 34 seconds.
"These athletes are ambassadors for Brandon and Hillsborough County," Higginbotham said.
The BSAC hopes to have the diving program, with Colwill at the helm, up and running in March. Colwill said his days as a competitive diver are over.
Patience and listening is the key to great coaching, Colwill said. And as someone who has had his share of coaches, he knows a little about what makes a good one.
"In my experience, I found that just listening and taking a little extra time can really make all the difference."
Now Colwill dreams of helping someone achieve their Olympic dream.
"I would love to produce the next Olympian," Colwill said.
For more information on the program, call the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center at (813) 689-0908.
Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]