Olympic Diver, Tyler Downs, Finds an Online Community of Support through Laurel Springs School
As Teri Downs boarded a plane to Orlando, Florida, in July to watch the Olympic Games with family and friends of participating athletes, she fiercely held back tears. Her 18-year-old son, Tyler Downs (LSS ‘21), was half a world away in Tokyo, preparing to complete.
While Teri would only be hours from her home, Tyler’s athleticism had earned him a place on Team USA for the 3-meter springboard board. He had become part of the historic 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
“I really wasn’t going to cry,” Teri said as she recalled the tears running down her cheeks at that moment. “It was all very surreal.”
Tyler started diving within his local rec league in his hometown of Ballwin, Missouri when he was 5 years old. His coach, who had trained previously with the national team in Indianapolis and knew Coach John Winfield, saw potential in Tyler. At age 10, he registered for a more competitive dive team in St. Louis, Missouri, still near his family home. A few short years later at the age of 13, he and his parents made the decision to allow him to move to Fishers, Indiana, to join the other young hopeful Olympians training directly under Coach Winfield.
Tyler’s mom remembers the family discussions around the decision and stressed that it was an opportunity to try the arrangement for training, but reminded Tyler it wasn’t a permanent separation. He could come home at any time. Tyler’s dad, Donnie Downs, a train engineer with Union Pacific Railroad, encouraged his son by saying, “set your goals high, and your dreams higher and don’t stop until you get there” even as he realized that Tyler’s absence would be hard to endure while he was training.
In Fishers, Tyler thrived. He stayed, competed, and lived with host families while his mom commuted back and forth between his new home and their family home in Missouri. In between trips, Teri continued to be a mom to Tyler’s six other siblings, as well as a grandma to her grandchildren and wife to Donnie. The past four years have been hard in many ways as she watched her son from a distance, allocating her time between family members, and maintaining relationships over Zoom and other digital connections. Yet, through it all, Teri and Donnie know it has been worth it for Tyler to pursue his dream of diving.
Why Tyler Downs Choose Laurel Springs School
Tyler’s earlier academic career started out as most do, in a brick-and-mortar public school. By the time he had completed grade 8, his family realized that they needed a different solution for Tyler’s education so he could balance training and school at the same time. Teri learned that a teammate of Tyler’s attended Laurel Springs School – a private, online school for grades Kindergarten through 12. The family did their research and after a few conversations with an enrollment counselor, they decided it was the perfect choice for Tyler’s education moving forward.
Fast-forward a few years and what the Downs family found was more than just an academic experience that was challenging, but completely tailored to Tyler’s busy schedule. They also found a team supporting Tyler through his journey to the Olympic Village, as well as diving competitions across the United States, Canada, Cuba, Ukraine, Chili, Japan, and China.
“I’m really glad we chose LSS,” said Teri. “He’s gotten a really good education and at the same time he was able to pursue what he truly loves. We thank LSS for being a part of his path to the Olympics.” One person who has also been part of Tyler’s journey is Jeanna McDonald, LSS Student Services Enrollment Coordinator. The news of Tyler making the Olympic team was special to Jeanna as she knows Tyler to be personable, well-mannered and respectful from her interactions with him.
Looking Toward the Future
Tyler is now attending Purdue University. He will dive with the university team and train under assistant coach David Boudia, who Tyler not only looks up to but also beat at the U.S. Olympic Trials for a place on the Olympic team. His academic focus will be pre-chiropractic as a result of the large impact his own chiropractor has had on his student-athlete career.
Tyler will enter college with time management skills honed at LSS as a result of its self-paced learning requiring the student to be responsible for their schoolwork and how they structure their learning time. Learning these skills helps provide a much smoother and more successful transition from high school into college, especially for student-athletes.
“Tyler’s performance here at Laurel Springs is nothing less than impressive,” says Lauren Kissinger, College Counselor at LSS. “There is no question that diving is his primary passion; however, Tyler has always remained a dedicated student who holds himself to high academic and personal standards. In managing his diving and academic schedules, he has learned valuable time-management and accountability skills that will certainly translate to his college studies. I am truly impressed by all that Tyler has accomplished at his young age, and I am excited to see where his determination continues to take him!”
Dedication to His Craft
This determination isn’t new for Tyler. In fact, while Teri’s other children participated in rec and high school sports, such as track and softball, Tyler’s “incessant drive” told her there would be more – not less – of diving in his future.
“When he is home, he has to train, train, train,” she said and emphasized that even a two-week break can result in six weeks of lost muscle memory. His diving drills have included up to eight hours of training six to seven days a week. He did have a pause in training from October 2019 to February 2020 as he recovered from a thumb injury and then didn’t train but returned home during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Understanding her son’s tenacity, Teri has worked to help him find balance between diving, enjoying life as a teenager, and his education. At times that has involved long phone calls or zoom sessions with Tyler, his host family, his LSS teachers, staff members, and his diving coach. It is an important part of her goal to continue to raise her son to be more well-rounded and prepared for more than just the diving board.
“Diving is just one of many parts of him,” Teri says. “I want him to be known as more than just a student-athlete or an Olympian, but a young man who is kind, polite, and well-educated.
Image of Tyler Downs used with permission of USA Diving.