Choices define the direction of lives, as some pay off and others do not.

Belfast Area High School junior swimmer Gary Moline made a clear choice his freshman year to try a different event in the pool, and, three years later, that decision helped make him the best in the state.

On Saturday, Feb. 16 at the University of Maine in Orono, Moline finished first in the diving portion of the state Class B championship meet with a score of 280.05.

And the catapult from just another pool athlete to one who soars high above the water came in his first year of high school.

Watch video and see more photos below.

“On the first day of practice [freshman year], I wanted to try [diving] out and see how it went and [I] kind of stuck with it,” Moline said. “[The first practice] was a lot of fun. Even though I was tired from [swimming] practice, I still had the energy to [dive]. [Coach Bob Winslow] was looking for divers, but I did want to do it beforehand, because I love to jump off stuff, and do tricks, flips and thrills.”

Stepping onto a diving board for the first time can leave some nervous, but for Moline there were no nerves, just “a lot of excitement and adrenaline, really.”

“I enjoy the thrills a lot, and it’s a lot of adrenaline,” Moline said. “You get recognized by the team greatly, and after that it’s all the attention that goes into it. You gain a lot of respect from diving, and not many teams are able to compete. Freshman year someone from the opposing team, which ended up beating us, was cheering along side. It’s really spectacular.”

“He’s an athlete,” said Belfast swim and diving coach Bob Winslow. “[You have to] get over some of the fears [of diving], because you are going to land on your back and your side. Experimenting with diving, you try to do it right, but sometimes it doesn’t happen.”

When a pool athlete steps onto the diving board during a meet, the other water athletes, coaches and spectators fall silent, with dozens of curious eyes locked on you. Watching. Waiting.

Moline does not feel nerves, he feeds off the anticipation.

“The excitement of having to do it, and it needs a lot of concentration, or you may end up failing the dives,” said Moline. “Adrenaline from the beginning, just to get through [the dives] is what happens a lot. Everyone cheering you on with all the eyes on you. The silence builds up energy.”

The nerves rarely bubble up for the 16-year-old.

“Sometimes [I get nervous], especially when it’s a new dive that I don’t know how it’s going to go,” Moline said. “Once I’ve done [the dive] all the nerves are gone, and it becomes a habit."

Those nerves were prevalent this season on the board, as the Northport resident had to master new reverse dives to be able to compete for a state championship. Not only did Moline have to learn the new dives, he had to nail down the intricacies weeks before state champions were to be crowned.

“I knew he could dive,” Winslow said. “It just took a little longer to get the reverse dives. He came to me and said he wanted to dive at states. He was as good as anyone, and he’s proved that in year’s past in a six-dive format, but you have to do 11 dives [at states].”

“I’ve qualified for the state championship three times now, and only competed once,” Moline said. “The previous two years I did not have the two reverse [dives] that I needed, and once I got the two reverses I was able to compete at KVACs and states, which greatly helped the team, and myself, as a personal goal.”

“The forward-dive-and-tuck and the forward-somersault were the first dives I did, and quickly mastered, unless I over-rotated on the forward-somersault,” Moline said. “After that, the back-somersault, inward dive, back dive, inward somersault, were the ones I did well with this year, and finally the two reverses. [The two reverses] I learned in a day, and competed with in the next [meet].”

On Monday, Jan. 28, Moline performed the reverse dives for the first time in practice, and the next day, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, competed with those dives in a dual-meet against Old Town, as he finished first with 173.90 points.

“It was really exciting getting the score,” said Moline. “Going in [to the meet] I didn’t think I was going to do that well. I went through it, and it went better than I could’ve expected. The day before in order to get my head through [the dive] I had to wear a shirt, and stand at the end of the board and do a backflip off the board. After that, I did it through the normal starting position, from the middle of the board, and it just flowed better.”

“The Monday before the Old Town meet was a rough day with the reverse dives, and getting those,” said Winslow. “Once he nailed a couple of those, that’s all we did, just getting the confidence in them. We knew at that point, we did those well. Putting together the program, because there is a certain order you have to do the dives, and you have to do two out of each of the five categories and then one optional [dive]. It was putting together the dive package so that in front of everybody that day, he’s doing his three best dives.”

Moline not only dives, but competes in the lanes of the pool as well.

“He is the fourth fastest sprinter we have, so he’s on the sprint relay, one of the fastest butterfliers we have, so he’s in the medley relay, swimming the butterfly,” said Winslow. “He also swam the 100 butterfly, which is held right after diving. So right after diving is over, and he’s done his three dives in the finals, he’s going right into the butterfly. He’s an outstanding swimmer and diver. He has scored more points for us than anyone else.”

The weeks leading up to the state meet on Feb. 16, allowed Moline to master the dives when hardware and history were on the line, but another problem presented itself at UMaine.

UMaine and Bowdoin College in Brunswick have a “soft” diving board, which has more “give” when jumping, which allows for more momentum to be transferred to the diver, propelling the diver higher, whereas the diving board at Belfast is very stiff, and requires more energy to get the board to bend.

“It had been over a year since he had competed on the diving board at Bowdoin, so we had to make sure the little things were taken care of,” said Winslow. “At the state meet [Gary] put everything together, and dove very well.”

“You have to think about the consistency, and not leaning too far, otherwise you are ending up halfway across the pool,” Moline said. “In addition to that, you have to make sure you complete the dive.”

Despite the difference in boards, Moline and Winslow knew they had a good shot at the state title.

Diving in the state championships requires a diver to complete eight dives in the morning, before the swimming state championships begin, and then another three in the afternoon, when the state swim meet is in action, or, when all eyes are on you.

“Yes [I knew I could win],” said Moline. “I cleared my mind, and in essence let the magic happen, but it required a lot of skill to not over-rotate and forget the dive I was doing. The judges revealed the scores when they gave us the medals, but by the end of the preliminary rounds I knew I had won because I was ahead by 33 points.”

The junior was right, Moline had a comfortable lead, which led to a state title.

“[I was] very happy, and excited [to win],” said Moline. “I finally got that done and over with. I’m sad that the season is now over, but I’m glad that I was finally able to win states in diving.”

“All of my teammates were excited, and probably the happiest they were at states, besides competing in their own events,” said Moline. “[There was] a lot of adrenaline and excitement going on with everyone.”

“It felt pretty good, and I was very pleased,” said Winslow. “It hasn’t been easy, with a lot of trial and error. The Monday before the Old Town meet was a rough day with the reverse dives, and getting those.”

Now that Moline, also a fine cross-country runner, has checked off “state champion” from his list, focus shifts towards his senior season.

“Next year is probably going for more advanced dives, and more points,” Moline said. “Touching up on the small stuff and learning doubles with a half-twist and back stuff.”

“Next year, throughout the course of the season, there are diving invitationals, and in the past I’ve taken some of my divers and we’ve competed in the southern part of the state where it’s an 11-dive format,” Winslow said. “It’s good exposure and experience to compete against divers in Class A, because it’s a mixture when you go to states. That’s what I’m hoping, and that’s one of our goals next year, is to go to one or two of these invitationals, and get a chance to dive against some of these kids. It makes you a better diver.”

“He contributed a great deal to our success, both in diving and in relays,” said Winslow. “[Gary is a] good all-around athlete, and you I don’t see many that do both.”

Moline is the son of Lanae and Gary Moline of Northport.