Arc of a Diver | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

Arc of a Diver 

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Erin Moore and Martin de Blois were photographed by Robert A. Davis on July 9, 2000, as part of the CITY 2000 photodocumentary project. They are in a diving pool at the Taste of Chicago festival in Grant Park. They were married two weeks later. I interviewed Erin the following November at their Lakeview apartment. They've since moved to Logan Square.

I'm Erin Moore, and I am a water lover. I'm in a professional high-dive show. I dive from an 85-foot tower into a 10-foot pool. For two weeks this summer we were performing at the Taste of Chicago, and that's when these pictures were taken. We were getting married later in the summer, and one morning before the show started we took these pictures to use in the table settings at our wedding.

I started diving when I was 15, but I was a gymnast before that, and I've always been a dancer. I was a preborn dancer, if there is such a word: I was kicking and twisting and flipping, my mom said, 24-7. She said I came out of the womb dancing, and I never stopped moving or enjoying movement. They built a fence out in the back because I would run around so much, and my dad built a little bar set so I could swing around. And they built window shades because my grandmother would come over and get tired just watching me run around in back. I used to dance in my living room in front of a big window, and I used to think that a dance agent would drive by and spot me. When I was eight or nine I started at a very small dance school, and I was never late to any of my lessons. I was standing out by the car, waiting with my little bag with my little tutu and my shoes in it, and if my dad was late I'd have a little tear running down my face. Because I couldn't tell my dad he was late for my dance lesson; I knew there were more important things. But I was definitely ready to go.

I grew up in Normal, Illinois. My dad was an art professor at Illinois State. When I got a little older he would gladly drive me to Champaign, 45 minutes, three times a week for lessons at the ballet academy there. There were four other kids in our family, and he would take that time to drive me there because he knew that's what I really needed. That's love.

My parents played a very big role in me becoming who I am. Just letting me be who I was, letting me not really love school. They made me do my homework and that sort of thing, but then there was that other part of my life which they realized was me, and they allowed me to do that by taking me to all the lessons, giving me the freedom every night if I wanted to turn on the music in the living room, even though my dad was trying to get work done. My mother is very talented in writing, and she was valedictorian of her class; she's very school oriented. But she didn't force me to walk down that same path. She knew what made me happy.

I started as a gymnast at about nine. And then I hit that growth spurt between 11 and 14; I was getting too tall and nothing was coordinated and I was quite miserable for not being able to do the gymnastics that I loved. My parents saw that I really needed something, and my father suggested that I try diving. It's very different: you land on your head instead of your feet, so when you switch from gymnastics to diving there's this in-between period where you always end up landing flat on your front or flat on your back. I got quite discouraged the first year. I said I don't want to do this, it's too hard and it's painful. My parents realized that the problem was I didn't have a coach, so they sent me to Indiana University, where the Olympic diving coach was giving camps, and I went there for two weeks. After that I was pretty much an undefeated diver. It's actually a very natural progression to go from gymnastics to diving, but you need someone to help you with it. If you do it on your own it's definitely painful.

I dove for two years in high school, and then was able to get a scholarship to Illinois State, which was pretty good because I hadn't really been diving that long. I was doing all the dives and I was winning all the competitions and setting records and that sort of thing. Usually in diving it takes a long time before you learn exactly where you are in the air; you're flipping in all different ways, you're going backwards, forwards, inwards, twisting, and it's all a matter of doing it often enough until your body knows and can react in a very short amount of time--three seconds. And if you do it long enough it just becomes very natural, and that's when the big waves of improvement start coming. And I was getting those big waves of improvement, it was really happening for me. I made nationals; the next step would have been training for the Olympics.

And then unfortunately I hurt my back, and my diving career came to a halt. It was a training trip in Hawaii; the whole team was there, riding mopeds. This car came up making a right-hand turn and it hit me, and I went flying over the top of the car. At first I didn't know how bad it was. In fact, after the accident Illinois State lost their coach and I was recruited onto the Indiana University team, which, if you know anything about swimming and diving, is one of the top programs in the country. But my back just progressively got worse. It was very painful. They told me it heals itself, but it takes about five years. They told me I would never dive again.

I moved to Chicago in '87. I came here looking for a job, and I have a sister who lived up here. My college degree was in television production, and I started into that a little bit and was working in a bar, the Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill on Lincoln Avenue. I was getting small production-assistant jobs here and there, just on little videos and that sort of thing.

When I trained for diving I trained weights for an hour, we ran stairs, trampoline. It was very, very active, and I was used to that kind of activity. Now I was just doing aerobics in my house, like a Jane Fonda beginner tape every day. I was being very careful with my back, but also I wasn't in an atmosphere to do more. I was working in a bar, I was living with my sister, I wasn't around people who were like me. In college I would get up at five o'clock in the morning. I would put my hair in a ponytail, throw on sweats, and walk through the snow looking like the abominable snowman because I had so many layers on, and I'd get to practice and everyone else would still have pillow head, and we'd jump on the trampoline and we'd be barely waking up. We weren't primpers. I wasn't a makeup wearer. I wasn't a nail and hair grooming person. I was feminine, but my priorities were definitely with the sport. And now in Chicago I was in a world and around people who didn't have the same experiences.

I was trying to make it work, I was trying hard. In diving you push through pain and you push through fear and you push through a lot of disbelief in yourself, and I take that experience and put it toward everything I do. So I decided to be this television producer and to make the step into the real world. My sisters were there, my parents were there--it seemed like everybody was there and living that way and I thought that's how I should be. And I was making myself...I got very depressed. I went to the doctor for it. At the time they didn't medicate that sort of thing, but the doctor said, You're depressed. It never really dawned on me because I was always this happy kid. I just thought I was sick. I thought I had mono.

About two years after the injury, I ran into a diver at the Ultimate Sports Bar. He had a shirt on that said something about diving, and I told him I was a college diver, and he said that he was traveling around with a show and that they needed divers. I had never heard of such a thing. There's another step besides the Olympics? You can get paid for entertaining people diving to music? I had him explain it a little bit more. They were doing shows at theme parks, Sea Worlds and Marinelands and places like that. And four weeks after I met this guy I dropped everything, found someone to stay in my place, and moved to Spain to dive with this company. It was not a hard decision to make. The only thing was, would my back be able to make it? Would I physically be able to do it? But I found a pool and dove just a little bit, and my back seemed to be better. Did I tell them I had a back problem? No. I took the job first. I said I'm there, I'm going. I just knew it was the best thing to do for myself.

My first job was a dolphinarium near Barcelona. We performed there for four months. I was doing what I liked, I was learning another language, everything was paid for, I was making good money, I was able to pay student loans. And I was in heaven when I started diving again. I mean, it was me.

Now I've been diving in shows for about 13 years and I can pretty much choose where and when I want to work. So I'm living in Chicago and diving in the summers, mostly around the midwest, and during the school year I'm a professional jump-roper. I do a show and I take it to schools. I'll come in and I'll talk to kids about eating right, taking care of themselves both physically and mentally, and I show them how fun it can be to be physically fit through doing jump-rope routines and gymnastics and dancing, and I talk to them about following their hearts and dreams. I have created a profession around something that I love, and feel that I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. And I'm very happy doing that.

After we shot the photographs in the pool that day, I knew that I'd made the right decision to marry Martin. It was grueling. We wanted to get 25 very good shots underwater, representing all the things we like to do together--cooking, listening to music, things like that. We had to work together through a lot of problems: he's holding flowers, I've got some other prop, things are floating too high for the picture...and we would have to come up for air and I would just scream out laughing, and then try to pull my composure together and go back under to finish, because we didn't want to start getting cold or waste the photographer's time. A lot of couples might start bickering, and all of a sudden it's an ego play, but we just had an absolute riot. It seems like such a small project, to take pictures underwater, but it's silly enough that if you can get somebody to do it with you and have fun and make it flow and just go along with it, then you know there's a lot of projects in life that you'll be able to get through. This was me being exactly who I was, and Martin fed it and all the way through he understood it. Before I met him I was definitely going down the path that I wanted to go down, but I was really going down it by myself, and now I have someone to go with.

Postscript: Erin's team is diving at Taste of Chicago again this year, but her role will be limited to setup, announcing, and other odd jobs. She and Martin are expecting their first child in a few weeks; they're planning a water birth.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert A. Davis.

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