If it wasn't for an injury, Chris Coles may never have discovered his love for diving.
Coles, who attends Rider University, grew up being a devoted athlete in gymnastics, but after damaging his left knee in high school and experiencing a growth spurt that now has him at 6-3, he discovered he could still perform twists and flips with high degrees of difficulty. Only instead of having a running start across a mat, he now does it flying through air after leaping from a springboard.
After only one year of diving at the high-school level, Coles has turned himself into a two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference three-meter diving champion.
No one will know where gymnastics may have taken him, but it's clear he's found success in another athletics setting.
Coles, who aspires to be a business executive one day, remembers when he was in search of something to replace gymnastics, which was a sport he competed in from the age of 6.
"I tore a ligament and chipped a bone in my left knee," Coles said. "I was sidelined for about six weeks. Then I came back and just wasn't the same. I was a little taller and my center of gravity was off. It also gave me the opportunity to try something different. I had been in gymnastics for 14 years.
"I was going to practices six days a week for three hours. It really didn't leave much time to do anything else. It was one of the best and worst things that happened to me. I had to leave the sport I loved, but it opened the door for me to try something different. I'm just as in love with diving as I was with gymnastics."
Coles walked on to the Rider swimming and diving team as a sophomore and promptly was named the MAAC's 2004 diver of the year.
"I don't know what it is about it, but I really enjoy being able to flip and being able to jump off the boards," said Coles, who is majoring in computer information systems with a minor in radio/television communications. "You're 20 feet off the water and you're able to do a couple of things, then hit the water and have someone give you a good score for it. I love the sport in general, just like I did in gymnastics. I can't see myself not doing a sport. That's why I've stayed in it for so long."
He said his gymnastics background has helped him in diving, because of the similarities between the two sports.
"I knew the physical aspects of how to flip and how to twist," Coles said. "I just needed to learn some of the technical details. Doing gymnastics is something that has helped me advance further or start further along than someone who just starts diving."
Adjusting to new challenges runs in the family for Coles, who is fluent in German after spending a year as a foreign-exchange student in that country.
His mother, Shirley Hailstock, became an accomplished romance-novel writer after being goaded by her best friend.
"My mom was complaining about the predictable ending to a romance novel she was reading, and made some offhand comment like, 'This is so predictable I could write it,' " Coles said. "My mom's friend said, 'Go ahead, I dare you.' A year later she had her best-selling novel on the shelf. She has written around 15 books. She's been writing since around the time I was born."
Coles, a junior and the only African-American swimmer or diver in the MAAC, found one aspect of diving very familiar with gymnastics. In both sports, the competitor has to wait for judges to give an interpretation of the performance.
"It's a little frustrating at times," Coles said. "You always seem to think that what you do is a little better than what you received. In the end, it comes down to what someone's perception is. I can't change that. I try not to think about it. All I can do is my dive or do my routine and whatever someone thinks about it comes down to them."
Coles has only competed for two years and still has time to reach his goal of competing in the NCAA swimming and diving championships. He also has plans for his future outside of athletics.
"I want to go to graduate school, and I'll still have a year of eligibility because I didn't dive my freshman year," he said. "I want to go somewhere I can dive. Ultimately, I want to become a network administrator or a director."