RENO – When she was 5 years old, Krysta Palmer told her coach that she wanted to be an Olympian.
Palmer, who was born in Carson City and went to school at Douglas High, first wanted to be a gymnast but injuries got in the way. After a seven-year career, she went with Plan B: trampoline, which was added as an Olympic event.
After another setback during her eight years with trampoline and when her dream seemed to be all but gone, Palmer tried diving and found success when she met one of the country’s best coaches in Nevada’s Jian Li You.
“I thought I was done with my athletic career at that point, but God had other plans for me,” Palmer said on Tuesday at the Lombardi Pool on the University of Nevada campus. “I met a friend who knew Jian Li, and she said to come up here to meet the coach. She’s incredible and has so much knowledge. She’s a Chinese national team coach. She’s been in Nevada for more than 25 years. I just picked up diving for fun and I didn’t really see a realistic goal of the Olympics, but we just kept setting bigger and bigger dreams and goals. We just kept achieving those goals and I was like, wow, we just have to keep making bigger goals.”
Twenty-four years since telling her coach about her Olympic dreams, the Douglas High and Nevada alum fulfilled her goal in convincing – and historic – fashion earlier this month when she won both the 3-meter individual and synchronized diving events at the USA Trials. Palmer, who didn’t get into diving until she was 20, became the first woman in springboard diving who will compete in synchronized and individual events at a single Olympic Games.
“Since Day 1 when she came to me while I was coaching my club kids, she wanted to dive,” said You, who will coach the team next month. “I asked to her to show me what she could do, and she showed me her trampoline skills. I said, wow, and let’s work on my team. That day, I knew she had a lot of potential for the team, and I think she can go very far. That’s what I told her on Day 1. I said you can go far but how far, I don’t know.”
And for someone to do it from a small, rural community, is a bonus for Palmer.
Palmer recalled the challenges when she was little but kept relying on her parents, Mitch and Vicki Palmer, for support and guidance. From gymnastics to trampoline to springboard diving, the 2010 Douglas grad has successfully demonstrated the determination and mentality to be diving on the world’s largest stage next month.
“Coming from a small town and trying to achieve elite athletics is really hard,” said Palmer, whose parents will watch her compete from the team’s camp in Orlando; no foreign spectators are allowed at the Olympics. “We face a lot of challenges along the way, but my parents were just huge help in all of this to make sure that I was getting the opportunities to reach my furthest potential. It’s really cool to have Minden, Gardnerville and even Carson City behind my back and Reno now. I’m just a Nevada local and it feels good to have my community supporting me along this journey and I couldn’t have asked for a better community to support me and my dreams. It means a lot. It really does.”
With the pandemic onset last spring, which postponed the Olympics, Palmer had two ways to look at the devasting news.
“In that moment, it was really hard to hear because I was gearing up for it and ready to make it all happen,” she said. “I could think of it as postponement and loss or think of it as it’s another year to develop better skills and consistency in my dives.”
The positive approach worked in her favor as she prepares for Tokyo next month.
“After a little time of processing, I just knew it was going to be a benefit for me actually to have an extra year – to be granted another year – to train and dive,” she added. “For me in my situation, I don’t have any kids, I can pull off training another year. For a lot of athletes, I think it was really hard because they have families to attend to. For me, just mentally trying to look at in a more positive way is it’s giving me another year.”
From working on strength and conditioning during the lockdowns to finally getting back into the pool as the country began turning a corner against the coronavirus, Palmer stayed focused on the mission. To stay ahead of the competition, consistency was the goal.
“I knew that the number one thing I needed to gain to try to be ahead of my competition was consistency,” Palmer said. “We did a lot of weight training. During the shutdown, we had a mat in my friend’s apartment, and we did a bunch of somersaults there. We tried to turn the adversity as best as we could into opportunities.”
Now, it’s just fine-tuning everything and staying on track to perform well next month and reach the podium. But at the same time, it’s also about enjoying the moment and soaking it all in.
“I really try to stay in the moment as best as I can. I don’t want to have any expectations going into my first Olympic games,” Palmer said. “My coach always says we’ve already achieved our dream, our goal, and everything from here is extra. For me, it’s just going into the Olympic Games and trying to do the best that I can do. I can just control what I do. I don’t know where the rest of the world is because of this pandemic.”
You just wants Palmer to have fun and the success will follow, like it has during her journey.
“We’re just having fun and trying to win a medal and maybe gold,” You said. “I just told her to enjoy the moment and have fun, have a good time. It’s your journey. If you enjoy it, you’ll perform better. She’s a very good performer so I’m not worried about it.”
Palmer’s also excited about the opportunity of the Olympics bringing the country together like in previous games.
“It’s just going to be exciting to be brought together. I’m excited to have an Olympic Games,” she added. “It’s just a time where media is so positive, media is uplifting and empowering. We need more of that in the media. To know we’re going through an Olympic Games is just exciting. I hope it’s motivating for everybody and that we can come together stronger.”