Roger Marolt: Roger This
Aspen, CO Colorado
Golf legend Lee Trevino says that the older he gets, the better he was. If you laugh, it might be because it’s true for you, too. (No, not that you are a golf legend, but that all of your putts at the Muskogee Junior Championships may not have dropped exactly the way you recall.) If you spend any time at bars, barbecues or in the bleachers at Little League games, you know that the world is full of legend farmers who fertilize their “was” with b.s. and grow it into something it wasn’t.
But one local man appears content to leave his “was” to be what it is. At 55, diver John Dufficy ” a former All-American, two-time PAC-8 diving champion and Olympic hopeful ” is focused keenly on the present. Twenty-three years since he last ripped the water from the heights of a 3-meter springboard, Dufficy recently took up the sport of his youth again to compete in the World Masters Championships in Perth, Australia, bringing home two gold medals and one bronze medal for his trouble. I talked with him recently about aging, athleticism and achieving.
R.M.: So, why get back into rigorous competition and training in a sport as demanding as diving after nearly a quarter century away from it?
Dufficy: Well, I developed moderately severe asthma and was having trouble breathing. I realized that I wasn’t hiking and running like I used to, so I started lifting weights and jump-roping at the ARC to see if I could improve my condition. One day I looked at the diving board out there and knew I needed to do something I really enjoyed if I was going to keep up a regular routine. I climbed up and bounced on the board a couple of times. It felt really good.
R.M.: Why the Masters Championships halfway around the world? Sounds a little extreme.
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Dufficy: Molly and I wanted to take a South Pacific vacation. I’ve wanted to visit some old diving buddies. This was our opportunity.
R.M.: Was there any fear of not being able to perform like you did at the peak of your athleticism?
Dufficy: No, none at all. I only wanted to reach the expertise within the limits of what I can do now.
R.M.: Did you have any idea of what those limits were?
Dufficy: Not really. I just started with the basics and tried to perfect those before moving up. I stuck with that strategy at the World Championships. There were a lot of guys attempting really difficult dives, the kinds they did when they were 20, and, in a lot of cases, they didn’t do them very well. I ended up winning by doing what I could do technically proficient now.
R.M.: Did it scare you to put it all on the line in front of the judges again?
Dufficy: Scared the hell out of me! But that’s the feeling that brings you back to your youth.
R.M.: Did you surprise yourself, good or bad?
Dufficy: I guess so. On the positive side, I didn’t expect to perform as well as I did. On the down side, I injured my shoulder slightly and haven’t been able to train hard for a couple of months. It isn’t healing like it used to.
R.M.: Any thoughts on midlife crisis or frustration with or fear of getting older?
Dufficy: Ha, ha. That wasn’t a real motivating factor, if that’s what you mean. But the last few years, I have realized that my youth is gone. More and more friends and family members have died and come down with major illnesses. As this happens, the quality of my own life becomes more important. It’s like, “Welcome to Act 2.” Here in Aspen, the general level of physical fitness, cultural awareness and intellectual stimulation makes you want to get more out of it.
R.M.: So living in Aspen gave you a boost to get back into diving?
Dufficy: Nah, diving is not really an Aspen sport. I moved here knowing that I couldn’t pursue coaching or stay involved with it. In that sense, I sacrificed my involvement with the sport to live here. It’s an obstacle. On the other hand, the Aspen Ideal inspires us to overcome these obstacles. So, yes, the atmosphere here encourages doing things like this. … Did I just change my answer?
R.M.: Do you subscribe to the notion that what differentiates competitive sports from recreational activities is in what you are willing to risk in order to win?
Dufficy: In competition, I want to win. I try to win. In a competitive situation, I perform at a much higher level than when I’m recreating or training.
R.M.: Is your risk tolerance lower in middle age than it was when you were 20?
Dufficy: It’s the same. I didn’t want to get injured then, either. It may appear that I took more risk then because I was doing more difficult dives, but the truth is that I could handle them the same way I handle the simpler ones now. Diving doesn’t reward taking chances and ending up sloppy.
R.M.: Not everyone has a background in a sport at such a high level. What can others similarly pursue to experience some of the benefits you are talking about as we age?
Dufficy: Everyone has a level that is a high level to them, in anything. The degree of difficulty of the dives I’m doing now would not be a high level to me when I was younger, but it is now. Find something you enjoy doing and be the best you can at it. Set goals. Lay it on the line. Don’t be afraid when everyone is watching. Make it real. Enjoy the journey.
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When Aspen celebrates Gay Ski Week in 2022, it will be the annual event’s 45th year, and the 20th year for AspenOUT, the nonprofit organization that stages the event.