In sync: David Boudia heads to Olympics with Hamilton County diving partner


By Ann Marie Shambaugh

David Boudia is no stranger to the Olympic games.

The diver was heartbroken after failing to medal in 2008 and rebounded to take home a gold and bronze in 2012. This year, Boudia is heading to Rio de Janeiro a veteran, but he’s viewing the experience through fresh eyes thanks to his synchronized diving partner Steele Johnson, an Olympic rookie.

“It’s cool to be able to be with a first-time Olympian, to see the excitement,” Boudia said. “Sometimes I get numb to the fact that this is pretty cool, that you made the Olympic games, and you get to compete for your country. Steele helps me see that, and I’m thankful for that.”

In addition to being among the world’s top 10-meter platform divers, the pair has much else in common, including their Christian faith, diving at Purdue University and ties to Hamilton County. Boudia, 27, is a 2008 Noblesville High School grad, and Johnson, 20, grew up in Carmel.

Boudia and Johnson, along with 2008 Olympian Mary Beth Dunnichay of Elwood, Ind., used to carpool to training at IUPUI when Boudia was 17 and Johnson was 10 years old. Johnson said he remembers passing the time playing Pokémon on his Gameboy, and Boudia mostly recalls listening to loud music and driving fast.

It wasn’t until Johnson began training at Purdue three years ago that Boudia saw his potential. Now, both men train together in West Lafayette, but their bond goes beyond the pool.

“Steele is definitely (like) a little brother in the sense that you have those fun times together, and you also have those times that you get frustrated out of your mind with one another,” Boudia said. “I think that both of our love languages is that we dog each other.”

Johnson said he’s become a more confident diver practicing with Boudia, but he’s also learned a lot about life, faith and perspective.

“The best lesson is to realize that diving is not my life. My identity is rooted in Christ. It’s not rooted in whether or not I make the Olympics,” Johnson said. “(David has) inspired me to take diving with a grain of salt, because there’s so much more to life than doing flips.”

Focused on faith

Boudia said he hopes to take that message to a broader audience through his book, “Greater than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption.” The autobiography, which he wrote with author Tim Ellsworth, releases Aug. 2 and explores how his faith, which he embraced between the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, helped transform his focus and goals.

“I think when people look at the Olympic games and pro athletes, they just see this glamorous lifestyle and everything looks extremely easy,” Boudia said. “I wanted to be able to come in and say, ‘It’s not as glamorous as you think it is,’ and be able to tell, behind the scenes, what the struggles look like and more importantly, just how much my faith has impacted my life.”

Boudia attends Faith Church in Lafayette, near where he lives with his wife, Sonnie, and daughter, Dakoda, 1. He said he doesn’t often make it back to Noblesville, but he’s felt a wave of support from Hamilton County and beyond as he prepares for Rio.

“There’s a lot of support when you go out and about. There are people who recognize you and cheer you on and want to wish you luck for the games,” Boudia said. “There are thousands of people that want to see you succeed. To know that there are that many people cheering you on, I think it helps motivate me to go into Rio making sure that I’m crossing all my Ts and dotting all my Is.”

Olympic rings

In addition to medals, David Boudia has two Olympic rings, which are given to athletes after competing in the games. He continued a U.S. Olympic diving tradition by passing his ring to a new member of the team after qualifications.

His choice of teammate and training partner, Steele Johnson, was obvious, but the way he presented the ring was not.

“I tried to make it as special as I could,” Boudia said. “I stopped by his college house, grabbed the jacket from his closet and brought it back to Indianapolis. It was a cool little thing I could do where I knew I wanted to give him my ring before he got his own, so I just slipped it in his jacket pocket.”

Johnson said he wasn’t surprised to receive Boudia’s ring – which he will return after he gets his own – but he considers it a special moment.

“It was definitely really cool to see him wearing it for the past eight years and to finally have my own,” Johnson said.

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