Published: October 4, 2013
A life-changing realization for diver Amanda Burke came during her freshman year in college.
"We had a meeting and I was able to show her where she was as a diver at the start and by the end of the season," said her college and professional coach, Dennis Ceppa. "Everyone has that moment when they realize they have the potential to go to the Olympic Games and that was hers."
The former Rider University walk-on only competed in high school diving - not a level associated with Olympic development - and never considered competing at the highest level. That spring 2007 meeting began a nine-year journey she hopes will end with in Rio in 2016.
"I realized I should stop being scared and go for it," she said during a break from last week's development camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. "He just brought it out of me. I would never have realized what I can do if not for him."
Burke, 26, made up for lost time after college.
She won the 2011 national 1-meter diving championship and placed second in 3-meter and third in the 1-meter division earlier this year. That is remarkable progress after placing 30th in the 1-meter event in 2009.
Burke, a Pennsylvania native, followed Ceppa to Penn State, where he took over the swimming and diving program this offseason. She competed at the international level, placing fifth in 3 meters, for the first time earlier this year.
"A lot of what I have been able to accomplish in the past year is because of him," Burke said.
Ceppa said the 2010 Rider graduate's maturity helped her improve rapidly.
"On a day-to-day basis, we know what to expect of her and I know she understands what it takes to succeed," he said.
Burke is focused on a sport when most emerge as Olympic-caliber divers in their teens and compete at a high level until 32. The personal trainer, well aware she will nearing 30 by then, put her career on hold to focus on Rio 2016.
"I do not want to look back and say I should done more or I shouldn't have worked those hours," she said. "I know I should retire after 2016. I know I need to start thinking about the next stage in my life. But talking about the end makes me a little upset. I don't like to think about it."
That drive and her work ethic tell Ceppa that Burke has a good chance of competing in Rio.
"I don't think she has hit her full potential yet," Ceppa said. "There are mistakes she can fix and technique she can improve on so there is plenty of room for growth. Her desire alone adds to her potential. It will take a lot of hard work, but there is no doubt she is nowhere close to being burned out."