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Stunt divers make big splash in small pool at Florida State Fair

TAMPA

When Dave Wise and his 7-year-old son Blake arrived at the Florida State Fair last week, they weren't sure what they would see.

They made their way through the crowds, bypassing stands offering the standard menus of fried fair food and made their way to Brown Entertainment's New York Fireman High Dive stunt show.

Wedged between a WTVT-Ch. 13 meet-and-greet tent and the Welde Bear Show's stage sat a 10-foot-deep, above-ground pool with three platforms — the highest one 80 feet high. As the show began, three bleachers filled with spectators curious about what the show entailed.

Five divers participated in the theatrical stunt show, including 22-year-old Canadian 10-meter diver and Olympic trial athlete, Laurence Vallee — the show's only woman.

Although dressing up as a firefighter seems like a far cry from her Olympic training, Vallee enjoys the thrill she gets from stunt diving and acrobatics.

"We're always scared for sure at the first show of the season," Vallee said. "But it's a good fear. The day you're not scared is the day you won't be focused anymore."

Vallee, who has been touring with Brown Entertainment, says that although training isn't as intense as the regiment for her national diving competition, all of the divers have to stay in shape.

"We do up to four shows a day sometimes, so that's kind of practice," Vallee said. "I like to eat healthy and we all want to stay healthy but also everyone is in tight bathing suits and Speedos, so we have to look good."

One of the main characters of the three-part show is a baby, complete with a bonnet and diaper, played by competitive cliff diver Bobby Snaglewski.

Snaglewski was hesitant when he was approached about the theme and his role in it.

"At first it was kind of like 'Oh my god, is this really happening?' " Snaglewski said. "But then you go out and you do it for the people and see how much they laugh and after the show people want to take a picture with 'the baby' and it's gratifying.

"But you know what, people love it and that's what it's about."

While the Florida State Fair staff choose the New York Fireman theme from a list, Snaglewski says there are many different themes in practice, all of which include an 80-foot dive.

"We have many themes like pirates and penguins and zoo animals, and we even had one where we bring in the world famous Harrison Jones," Snaglewski said. "We have an Olympic-themed show where there are a lot of different dives and that's very familiar for a lot of us."

The final dive of the 20-minute show happens when one of the five members jump, sometimes backward, off of a tiny platform hitting that 10-foot pool at speeds exceeding 55 miles per hour.

At this show, the diver spins, twists and flips before landing in the relatively shallow pool.

"Wow!" Blake Wise said with a gasp. "It was awesome."

Kelsey Sunderland can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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