She's Diving's Comeback Kid -- Bellevue's Mcgrath Training For Next Year In Barcelona

At 23, one year removed from the University of Alabama, Ellen McGrath was looking for something deeper than a swimming pool to dive into.

"It was a matter of getting out of a rut and moving on," the Louisville, Ky., native said. "Why did I go to college if I was going to keep diving and work part time at a health club?

"I decided it was time to get a real job."

She accepted an offer from Ford Motor Co.

The job: owner relations analyst.

The place: Bellevue.

The problem: "No place to train platform (diving) in Washington," McGrath said.

So with no place to dive and no drive to place - first, last or anything between - the two-time all-American and 1985 Southeastern Conference diving champion left her swim cap, and swim career, in Alabama when she moved to Bellevue.

"I was ready to quit," she said.

That was more than five years ago, before the construction of the King County Aquatics Center.

The Goodwill Games came to the Federal Way facility in July 1990. McGrath went to the center a few months later and found a place to train.

With a place to dive, McGrath soon regained her drive to place.

She came out of retirement last October, and within 10 months won the U.S. women's diving championship in Bartlesville, Okla.

"I was a little surprised that it happened that fast, and that she's diving as sharp as she is already," said Scott Reich, the head coach of McGrath's Emerald Diving team, based at the Aquatics Center. "She's got a little work, but all the pieces are falling into place."

McGrath said the decision to come out of retirement evolved over several months. But once she made it, there was no hesitation.

"I thought if I was going to do it, I'm going to train hard and see what happens," she said.

The idea is to earn a trip to Barcelona, Spain, next summer for the Olympic Games.

"I've learned a lot in those five years that helped me become very successful in making a comeback," she said.

Things such as setting a definite - finite - goal.

"Part of coming back was training through the Olympic trials, and if I make it, then training through the Olympics," she said.

And that's it.

"That's why I think I'm able to make the sacrifices now," she said.

McGrath, 28, finds time for six days of training a week - two hours at a time - beyond her 40-hour-a-week job. That doesn't include the 1 1/2-hour round trip from Bellevue to the pool in Federal Way.

"You kind of make the time," McGrath said. "During the winter, it's just going after work and doing it. You can do what you want to do. Personal things sometimes fall by the wayside - my house may not be so clean - but some things are worth it."

McGrath has not forsaken all of her personal life. She's getting married in two weeks.

But the honeymoon will have to wait until about a year from now.

The training that began with a month in the gymnasium, doing "dry training" last October, continues toward the Olympic trials next spring in Indianapolis - and maybe to Barcelona.

McGrath already has surpassed her short-term goals.

"It was actually shocking," she said of her first few months of diving after the dry training. "It was easier than I thought it would be. I had built it up to be so tough."

In her first meet back, a national qualifying meet in Austin, Texas, last April, McGrath survived a "terrible" performance to qualify for the national indoor meet, at which she eventually earned a bronze medal.

"I'm glad I had that meet," she said of the qualifier. "That's what I needed to get over those initial jitters."

The jitters seemed gone by last month, when she won it all in Bartlesville.

"I think I'm about a step ahead," she said. "Everything's moved up six months."

But that doesn't mean the training gets any easier.

"It gets dragging," she said, "but when you go to the meets and do well and your teammates do well, it really makes it worth it."