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Cave Spring’s Brooke Leftwich Diving Into ACC at Virginia Tech

Brooke Leftwich, sporting her VT diving team shirt, will join the Hokies in September.

Cave Spring senior Brooke Leftwich didn’t waste time making her mark in high school diving. Now, the talented diver is ready to leave the board, and her mark, in the college ranks at Virginia Tech.

Leftwich will join a Hokies’ diving team that is full of talent, and off a successful run in qualifiers at the Rutgers Aquatic Center that propelled the Tech squad to the NCAA Championships.

Just over two years ago, diving at any level would have been one of the furthest things from her athletic endeavors. She had never been a swimmer and never even dove off a diving board.

It all came about from a freak injury and a strong dose of determination and perseverance.

Leftwich was born into a gymnastic family where her mother, grandmother and great-aunt were accomplished gymnasts. She began gymnastic activities at age two, quickly progressing to upper-level ranks by age 10. At various elite gymnastic events she was placing high in the balance beam, vault, floor exercise and all-around; finishing first on vault and floor exercise, as well as second on the uneven bars and all-around, at the World Class Invitational in 2012.

Other meets followed suit, and she moved to level 9 for the 2013 season. Her gymnastic career was clearly on the fast track and she had level 10 in her sights, the highest level attainable.

“I knew I wanted to do this in college and have an opportunity for a scholarship,” Brooke noted.

She kept pushing herself, and at age 13 knew she had a legitimate shot at level 10. But, fate was the hunter, and her goal was sidetracked with a broken ankle that required surgery in November 2013, forcing her to sit out the 2014 season. In 2015 she competed at level 10 during the regular season, but was limited at the level 10 Virginia State Meet due to a second ankle surgery.

In December, 2015 a trip to Arizona for training opportunities saw the wear and tear of gymnastics rear its head.

“I was working with a lot of good athletes and I felt something go wrong in my right hip,” Brooke recalled. “There was a lot of pain. In gymnastics there is so much repetition, wear and tear from working 5 hours a day. I knew there was a problem.”

Cave Spring diver Brooke Leftwich won the VHSL Class 3 state championship in February in only her second year of competitive diving.

After returning to Roanoke, the doctor’s diagnosis wasn’t favorable. The hip injury was known as snapping hip syndrome, where Brooke’s hip tendon was not stretching enough across the hip bone, causing significant pain. Surgery released the tendon, where the surgeon cut the tendon away from the hip bone, allowing the tendon to move more freely. Following the surgery, the doctor’s recommendation was unsettling.

“The doctor said, ‘I’m not going to tell you you’ve got to quit gymnastics, but I’m advising you to give it up,'” Brooke stated. “It was devastating to hear that.”

Despite the setback, Brooke was determined to regroup.

“Some friends who knew I needed to find a new athletic direction encouraged me to give diving a try,” Brooke said. One in particular was her longtime friend and Hidden Valley diver, Maddie Nichols, who ironically had similar injury in gymnastics.

Leftwich joined a beginner’s program at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center run by Virginia Tech diving coach Ron Piemonte. Piemonte, Tech’s diving coach for over a decade, has over 30 years of diving and coaching experience, including an impressive resume that has brought him national and international recognition as one of the top coaches in the United States. The Arizona State graduate and Pac-10 champion, Piemonte was the ACC Female Diving Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

“I was a total beginner and very nervous at first,” she said. “I was in a class with a bunch of 3-year-old kids who were just there to try diving out. I was scared to death the first time I went off that diving board.”

Brooke adapted and took to diving like a fish in water.

In her first year of diving as a junior at Cave Spring, Brooke ended up undefeated in the regular season and finished second in the VHSL 3A State Meet.

In February, Leftwich captured the VHSL Class 3 State Championship, totaling 480.45 points in eleven dives.

Along the way, she practiced tirelessly in Christiansburg, typically 4 days a week, 1 1/2 to 2 hours each day.

“It was a huge commitment, driving there and back each time, but I loved it so much,” Brooke explained. “It isn’t something I have to do, but something I love to do.”

Piemonte saw Leftwich’s work ethic, and made her the scholarship offer to dive for Virginia Tech. “He told me, ‘I want you on the (VT) team.'”

Leftwich had looked at James Madison, Richmond and Rutgers, but knew Virginia Tech was the perfect fit.

“I was amazed with Virginia Tech,” she said. “The academics are great and I want to study business. I’ll also be close to home, so it was a really easy decision.”

She was recently named the student-athlete of the month on ESPN radio, and will continue to practice before transitioning to college diving in September, where different levels of competition and weight training will become a new part of her regimen.

But, like gymnastics to diving, a change that Leftwich is prepared to tackle head first.

Bill Turner

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