How big are Julie Park’s dreams? Well, the planet might not be big enough to hold them.
The Huron senior is coming off an impressive season with the school’s swimming and diving team but hopes to make an even bigger splash in life outside of the water and maybe even outside the stratosphere.
Park hasn’t picked a college yet, but she’s already been accepted to U-M, MIT and Northwestern so she has a big choice to make but without any bad choices to choose from. And she’s thinking big – out of this world big.
“I’ve always had this really weird, and kind of unrealistic, dream of mine to fly to space, so I’ve contemplated studying astrophysics,” she says.
Please, tell us more.
“I love traveling and exploring different cultures and geography around the world,” she says. “In other words, I love experiencing the world. And I really want to be able to experience the world outside of earth at least once in my life. I also had this phase in middle school when I was obsessed with space and astrophysics. I spent a good deal of time watching documentaries and attempting to read Stephen Hawking’s books (I was too young to comprehend the complexities of Hawking’s ideas).”
Closer to home, Park also is passionate about the human sciences and is considering a major in Cognitive Science. “However, I may end up changing my major because there’s so many other academic passions I have such as math and journalism,” she says.
The 18-year-old student-athlete has already had an exciting and successful ride, especially as a diver for the Huron swimming and diving team.
Park started diving her sophomore year of high school and qualified to Regionals that first year – a remarkable accomplishment. She placed fifth at the SEC conference meet and qualified to both regionals and states as a junior.
This year as a senior, she placed fourth at the SEC meet and 10th at States.
“Looking back on my diving career at Huron I have improved tremendously,” she says. “I think when I first started diving for Huron I was getting scores of 70 points at 6-dive meets. My senior season, I was scoring over 200 points at 6-dive meets.”
Park had a special teammate along for the ride – fellow senior Annie Costello, a state champion diver and Huron HS record holder who recently signed on to dive at Michigan.
“I love Annie and we’ve become super close over these past three years on the team together,” Park says. “Annie and I actually met when we were in kindergarten. I remember having playdates with her. Annie is also the most talented and hard-working athlete on our team. It’s been my privilege to dive with her and watch her make school history.”
Park discovered that diving is more mentally straining than physical.
“I think a lot of divers struggle with fear,” she says. “Diving is honestly scary. We’re scared of smacking flat on our back (which can leave bruises) and we’re scared of hitting the board. Yes, I have hit the board before and it was terrifying.
“Some days I would have anxiety during school dreading diving practice because I would have to do that one dive that I was super scared of at the time.”
She considers herself “dare-devil.”
“Most of my friends know that if they dare me to do something, I will most likely do it,” she says. “For example, I was bridge jumping a couple summers ago and did a double backflip off the bridge. Don’t get me wrong, I have fears and anxieties just like everyone else, but I think I’m better at overcoming them.”
Park says she really enjoyed the team atmosphere of swimming and diving at Huron.
“I have been so lucky to be on the dive team these past three years with such amazing girls,” she says. “We’ve all just gotten along super well. I think part of what makes connections with teammates so special is that we go through so much together. On days when we are tired and don’t want to get in the pool, we have each other to stay motivated. If someone is ever struggling to go for a dive, we’re all there supporting them and cheering them on.”
Park says her biggest goal this year was to grow more confidence in herself as a diver and as a person. She admits to struggling to find confidence in herself and allowing other people’s judgements to put her down.
“I remember in my junior year when I placed fifth at the conference meet, I overheard some Huron swimmers talking about how I didn’t deserve to be placed so high and how I wasn’t good at diving,” she says. “This really hurt me and I let it get in my head. I didn’t perform my best the rest of that season believing that those words were true.”
She now chooses to surround herself with supportive friends and family.
Diving or swimming were never on Park’s agenda until high school. She was always a gymnast and all of her athletic ambitions and plans at one time centered on gymnastics. She started gymnastics when she was 5 years old and competed as a level 9 junior Olympic gymnast.
“I was practicing about 25 hours a week, doing a portion of my schooling online to focus on gymnastics, and getting recruited by colleges when I made the hardest decision of my life to quit,” she says. “There’s so many factors that led up to me leaving the sport including problems with my physical health, mental health, family and more. Because my entire life had revolved around gymnastics since I was a child, I was scared to try new things and put myself out there.”
She says her mom “forced” her to try diving her sophomore year because “she didn’t want me to lay at home doing nothing.”
“She wanted me to do diving because I already had acrobatic skills from gymnastics and it would be easier for me to pick up diving rather than other sports like swimming,” she says. “I started off at Orchard Hills Athletic Club (OHAC) where I learned how to jump off the board and dive in head first. I decided I didn’t hate diving and I didn’t want my mom to keep bothering me, so I decided to join the dive team at Huron.”
Sometimes, moms are right and this was certainly one of those times.
“I’m so grateful I did because some of my best high school memories were made on the team, and I also ended up falling in love with the sport,” she says.
Julie, the daughter of Kazumi Matsubara, has a 3.9 GPA and is the Co-President of Huron Green Team. She also is a staff writer and the Design Editor for the Huron Emery, the official school newspaper.
Park certainly has a bright future ahead of her and an amazing drive to succeed.
And here is the perfect quote that really sums up this young lady and what she’s all about:
“Regardless of which school I attend, whether I dive in college, or what I major in, I know that if I continue working hard and following my passions, I will end up in a happy place.”
Maybe that happy place will be among the stars.
Diving photos by Pasi Kaipainen. Senior photos by Bong Kim.