Schnell's Wildcat Journey Realized With Olympic Glory
Arizona Athletics' "Wildcat Way" strategic vision has student-athlete experience at the core of its holistic mission to develop academic, athletic and life champions. From recruitment to competition to graduation, the journeys of Arizona Wildcats are powered by success, excellence and achievement.
When that journey is a Tucsonan becoming an all-time Wildcat great and representing the University of Arizona and Southern Arizona on the biggest of stages, you have one special Wildcat. You have Delaney Schnell from Arizona Swimming & Diving.
Competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games in two diving events punctuated Schnell's meteoric year of accomplishments. She became the face of a university, athletics department and a community. Her success represented the ideal model of what it means to be a Wildcat, making an impact globally as a silver medalist in Japan.
But none of that went according to plan.
After talks of cancelling or postponing the Olympic Games because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Schnell saw the harsh reality hit her.
"When I started seeing local pools and training facilities start closing down, I got hit with a flood of emotions," Schnell admitted. "It was a shock to think about all of my training and hard work could possibly be for nothing. I decided to take a couple of months away from training, which allowed me to reset mentally."
That reset and chance to reflect led her to compete collegiately again with the NCAA's extension of eligibility relief for all student-athletes impacted by the pandemic. It also marked the beginning of a banner year in the pool for Schnell.
She dominated the Pac-12 by winning the individual championship in the platform and 1-meter dives on her way to being named Pac-12 Diver of the Year. She later became an All-American in both events, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the summer.
"I had a really, really good Pac-12 Championships where I set personal, school and Pac-12 records," Schnell said. "I was diving so well in February that I fell off a little bit heading into NCAA's, but that happens sometimes. Diving, like sports, is a rollercoaster, and it's going to go up and down."
Those shortcomings were still very impressive as Schnell was the NCAA Runner-Up in the platform dive yet she saw falling short in her quest for a national championship as an additional push to be great.
"Not winning an NCAA title was devastating to me because my expectation was to win one after my performances at Pac-12's. However, I think coming up short at the NCAA Championships is what pushed me to improve. If I hadn't come up short then, I wouldn't have had the motivation to become a silver medalist in Tokyo."
Then came the U.S. Olympic Trails where Schnell felt like she hadn't quite regained her form from Pac-12 Championships. However, she believed in her training and her past championship experience.
"I felt like I wasn't ready, but it was happening anyway, so I focused on remaining calm and taking it one dive at a time. I had a mindset of whatever happens, happens."
What happened was Schnell not only qualified for Team USA as an individual on the platform dive but as part of a synchronized pair as well. It was a huge sense of relief, but also a stark realization. If she was good enough to make Team USA, then she believed she was good enough to reach the podium in Tokyo. Schnell's epiphany turned into a realization. Alongside her partner, Jessica Parratto, the duo would win the silver medal in the 10-meter synchronized dive.
It turned a native Tucsonan's story from hometown hero to international star. Schnell turned into local and national media star. She became a face of the university and an idol of young women throughout Tucson.
"It was a special feeling to be able to represent Tucson where I grew up, the University of Arizona and the United States of America. It was really cool to be able to stay here in Arizona for my college career, represent this city and state and make it all happen."
Schnell's journey from Tucson High to the Arizona Wildcats to the Tokyo Olympic Games is not just a picture-perfect example of a student-athlete experience, but it is the fulfillment of this Wildcat's dreams.
"I came to the University of Arizona with the goal of just making my mark, and it was cool to be able to do that as an Olympian and represent what students and athletes from this campus and community can do. It was an honor to become a part of the amazing history of this program, athletics department and university."
Delaney Schnell is truly a Wildcat for life.