For Mia Vallée’s Commonwealth Games debut, she competed this year in Birmingham for Team Canada at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, winning individual Gold in the Women’s 1m Springboard and Bronze in the Women’s 3m Springboard, and with her diving partner Margo Erlam, Mia came away with Bronze in the Women’s Synchronised 3m Springboard. Mia had her first major international competition as a senior at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, where she won Bronze in the Women’s 1m Springboard and Silver in the Women’s 3m Springboard, and also this year, she won Silver in the Women’s 3m Springboard at the 2022 FINA Diving Grand Prix in Calgary and Gold in the Women’s Synchronised 3m Springboard with Margo. Returning to the Canadian diving scene during the pandemic, Mia competed at the 2022 Winter National Championships, winning Bronze in the Women’s 3m Springboard, and at the 2022 Summer National Championships, Mia won Gold in the Women’s 1m and 3m Springboard. Currently, Mia is a student at the University of Miami, where she’s competed at the Conference Championships and NCAA Championships, and her next big competition coming up will be in January at the Senior National Championships. We caught up with Mia, who answered our questions about winning her Gold and two Bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, competing at other major competitions this year for Team Canada and being a student at the University of Miami.
You represented Team Canada at this year’s Commonwealth Games, how did you find the experience making your Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham and staying in the athletes village?
It was my first time at a big Games, having an athletes village, and so many sports competing in the same place. It was amazing to be beside all the high level athletes from so many different countries and from many sports that I don’t usually get to see. The athletes village was very nice, and being able to stay with all the girls in our team in one apartment with a common area made the whole competition extremely fun. Also, all the volunteers and workers at the Games were extremely welcoming and helpful, which made the experience even better!
How did you feel finding out you’d been selected for Team Canada and what did you enjoy most about competing at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre?
I was extremely happy when I found out I was selected to compete at the Commonwealth Games. Our selections were at our nationals in May and were for both World Championships and Commonwealth Games. I had been training for this competition all year, hoping that I would be able to qualify myself for both these teams. It is one of my best diving memories to date when I made the team, as my coach from Miami, Randy Ableman was there to coach me, as well as his wife and my parents were all there to cheer me on and celebrate with me, making it such an amazing experience.
The Sandwell Aquatics Centre is one of the most beautiful pools I’ve been to. It was really fun competing there, as all the volunteers were so nice and encouraging even if I wasn’t competing for their country. Also, I had never competed in a competition with so many spectators, and seeing all the stands full and the crowd cheering for each diver was moving, because, in diving everyone is friends and we all get along very well, but seeing the crowd play off of that and encourage everyone brought a different level to the experience.
What was it like winning your first medal of the Games, when you won Gold and became the Commonwealth champion in the Women’s 1m Springboard?
When I was competing in that event, I knew it was my best shot at a medal and even at winning Gold. I have the hardest degree of difficulty out of the girls competing there, which gives me a slight edge due to the way the scores are calculated. But knowing that also put a lot more pressure on myself than I would’ve thought, especially after winning Bronze in that event at World Championships. When I saw my name at the top of the board after that event I was so happy, especially as it was the first Gold for Canada in diving and I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my family and with my team in Miami.
How was it competing in the Women’s Synchronised 3m Springboard with your diving partner Margo Erlam, and coming away with the Bronze medal?
We have not been partners that long, we only started practicing and competing together in April of this year so we are still learning about each other’s diving style habits. I have always loved diving in sychronised competitions because, since it is an individual sport, you get so used to being up there alone, but having someone to lean on in this event always makes it more enjoyable. We were more confident going into this event because we had had the longest time to practice and I think it showed, our timing and chemistry was very good and we were both extremely proud coming out of it.
You then won Bronze in the individual Women’s 3m Springboard, what was this like and how did you stay focused during the competition?
The Women’s 3m Springboard was the last day of the competition, and because I had been competing almost non-stop since February with the NCAA competitions as well as the national and international competitions, I was extremely tired. It was my last event of the season and I was really excited to showcase everything I had learned. Going into the final, I missed my first dive slightly which brought my spirits down, but I was able to remind myself that in this sport, the placings can change really quickly so I was able to put down my next three dives very well. On my last dive, I didn’t think I was in contention for a medal but wanted to be proud of what I had done and did one of the best dives of my career. When I saw that I had come in third, I was so proud for having pushed through being tired and having missed my first dive and even more proud that I had now medalled in all my events at the Commonwealth Games.
Earlier this year, you competed at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, how was your time representing Canada at your first World Championships?
World Championships was the most incredible competition of my career. It was my first major international competition on the senior stage and I had been diving very well all season so I was very excited going in to see what it would bring. It was made even better when my parents, my boyfriend, and some of my friends from Miami decided to fly there to support me with shirts they had made that said “Team Mia” on them! It was also amazing to have almost my whole team from Miami there to support me, all competing for our respective countries as well as my coach, Randy Ableman, who was there throughout every competition and practice to help make sure I was in the best space mentally and physically to dive to my best potential. I think that having all that love and support around me constantly was what led me to doing so well in the events because even though I was alone on the board, I knew that so many people were watching me and cheering for me with all their hearts. Even having one of my best friends there from Miami, competing for Sweden but in all the same events as me, having her support through all the practices and cheering each other on during these competitions was definitely a highlight.
What was it like winning Bronze in the Women’s 1m Springboard and how did you prepare for the final?
It was an incredible feeling winning the Bronze medal. Like I said for the Commonwealth Games event, I had the hardest degree of difficulty for my dives in the competition which I knew gave me an edge and a possibility at a medal, but also made me even more nervous for the event. When I went into the final, I tried to dispel any expectations and dive for myself. When I am nervous, like for a big final like this, I try to pretend I am in practice to relax my nerves and it worked very well. I do not look at the scoreboard during the competition, but seeing I was in third after my last dive was a dream come true. I had missed the second place by 0.05 because of my last dive, which made it bittersweet, but walking away from the board to my coach and teammate who had competed in that event as well and seeing their faces, as well hearing my family up in the stands was the best feeling in the world.
Can you tell us about competing in the Women’s 3m Springboard final, in which you won Silver?
During this event, I was not as nervous as for the 1m event because I did not think I had as good a chance at a medal competing next to so many amazing athletes. I did not look at the scoreboard, but by hearing the scores announced for the other divers, I did not think I was in contention. I was diving very well and that was my goal for the event, to be proud of what I put forward regardless of the outcome because at the end of the day, I can’t control how the other divers do, just myself. Going into my last dive, again, I did not think I had a chance at a medal and I just wanted to do my best so I could walk away with my head held high. I did an amazing dive and when I came out of the water I could hear my family screaming insanely loud from the other side of the pool. I couldn’t see the board very well since my eyesight isn’t great, so I did not know where I had placed, and I remember being extremely confused why everyone was so excited since I still did not know I had gotten a medal. I only realised when someone came over to tell me to change for the medal ceremony before the rest of the divers had even finished and that was when I realised I had medalled. When I went to put my tracksuit on, I saw that I not only medalled but came second and that is when I truly realised how well I had done and that I had medalled in two events in my first World Championships. I barely had time to register until I was on the podium, but standing up there in front of everyone and hearing them call my name for the Silver medal is something I will definitely never forget, and a moment that still pushes me today to work to achieve that and better for the future.
What are some of your favourite memories from competing at both the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the World Championships in Budapest?
For the World Championships, the best memories are, like I mentioned before, simply having everyone there supporting me, and having my teammates and family and friends with me on the other side of the world to live with me the incredible moments of winning the Silver and Bronze medals.
For the Commonwealth Games, I think the best memories are of hearing the crowd cheer for all the divers even if they weren’t English. Feeling that kind of energy from the crowd during diving competitions is rare and is something I will always cherish.
You won Silver in the Women’s 3m Springboard and Gold in the Women’s Synchronised 3m Springboard with Margo at the 2022 FINA Diving Grand Prix in Calgary, how was this?
This competition was a great competition and very important in the lead-up to World Championships and Commonwealth Games as those results allowed me to see how I measured up on the international stage a little better. Winning Silver at that competition gave me a lot of confidence for the following ones as I hadn’t dove my best and still placed very well. And in synchro, it was only our second competition together, and this is one of the competitions where we bonded the most as a team, cheering each other on and encouraging the other between dives which I think led to our success and this competition but also the others throughout the year.
What was it like returning to the Canadian diving scene when you competed at the 2022 Winter National Championships, where you won Bronze in the Women’s 3m Springboard, and the 2022 Summer National Championships, where you won Gold in the Women’s 1m Springboard and Women’s 3m Springboard?
It wasn’t easy to return to Canada for the Winter National Championships, as because of COVID, I had not dove in Canada almost since I had left for college in 2019. I did not know how I was doing compared to the other competitors, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After diving at this competition and getting Bronze, it gave me a lot more confidence for the Summer Nationals, which were our qualifications for World Championships and Commonwealth Games. I was very confident going into those second ones, especially since my coach from Miami came with me. He is very calm, positive and supportive and these qualities helped calm my nerves when the competition came, something I did not have at Winter Nationals. Both of the factors together allowed me to dive my best and put aside the pressure of wanting to qualify for the future competitions which allowed me to come first in both my events. Having my parents there for that event, who I hadn’t seen since Christmas because I was in Miami, and my coach as well as his wife (who I call my second parents) to celebrate with after the event was beyond description.
As a student at the University of Miami, how is your time going there so far and was there anything that encouraged you to attend?
I chose the University of Miami primarily for its diving program. The head coach, Randy Ableman, as well as the assistant coach, Dario Difazio, have produced multiple Olympians and NCAA champions in the 35 years they have been there, and I knew that Randy had a good relationship with some of the coaches in Canada as well. I also wanted to study in Marine Biology and Miami is one of the top schools in the country for this program so it all fell into place. I love attending the University of Miami, my team and coaches there are like a second family, and everyone is training to go to the Olympics for a different country, which makes the environment one where everyone pushes each other, and everyone wants to be there every day to work hard and that type of mentality is infectious and I think one of the reasons I have been able to excel so much with this program. Everyone at the university is extremely helpful and we have all the support we could need as an athlete as well as in academics. The opportunities that I have received for schooling in Marine Biology is incredible, I am currently doing research with a professor and will be going to do my master’s with him as well next year. Also, I have always wanted to live by the beach, and having it right there is like living out my childhood dream.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your diving career so far and can you tell us about some of the competitions you’ve competed at with University of Miami?
The biggest highlights of my career are definitely the Summer National Championships in May that I spoke about before, as well as the World Championships from this year.
I’ve competed for three years now with the university. My first year was cut short because of COVID-19 but my second and third year I was able to compete in the Conference Championships as well as NCAA Championships. It was a very big adjustment coming to America where most of their competitors have 50+ girls, because in Canada our nationals have at the max 20 girls. It did take me a few years to learn how to compete in these long events, but it has definitely taught me a lot and I have learned how to do my best in these situations. Competing in the Conference or NCAA Championships is always so fun because you get people from all around the world that you can talk to. So many athletes from different countries come to the NCAA to train and everyone is always very excited and happy to represent their school. It is also fun to talk to new people during practices and make friends from around the US and around the world.
Where does your love of diving come from and how did you get into it?
I got into diving at five years old. In Montreal, we have summer pools where there are recreational diving and swimming teams. One day, while I was learning to swim, I saw people flipping off the diving boards and thought it looked fun. The next year, I was enrolled at an indoor pool for the winter and I never looked back. I am not sure where the love of diving comes from, nobody in my family has ever done this sport. I had always been a very active child, and I think when I found diving, I naturally took to it, maybe some mix of the exhilaration of throwing yourself off a board and needing to trust that your body can do it, and the people and opportunities it has led me to.
Can you say what a typical training day looks like for you and how does it change in the lead-up to a major competition?
My training varies depending on the day due to my class schedule at the university, but in general I do two two-hour practices a day and one hour of weights three times a week. I will take a Monday as an example – I go and do some stability exercises with my athletic trainer from 9:00-10:00, then practice (one hour of exercises and one hour of diving) from 10:00-12:00, then I have class in between. Then back to practice from 1:30-3:30 (30 minutes stretching and 90 minutes in the water), then we have weights from 4:00-5:00 then usually some treatment until 6:00 then I go home and do my schoolwork. My other days are similar, but sometimes my classes are earlier and I dive later or vice versa. Usually, in the lead-up to a big competition, the only thing that changes will be how many times we do weights. If we have big competitions coming up, we will drop from three times a week to two times a week to make sure we have more energy.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
When I have time off, I usually like to go home to Montreal since I do not get to see my family very often. Spending time with my parents and relaxing while seeing my friends from home always allows me to reset a little bit before starting back. On my weekends off, I also like to go to the beach with a good book if I can, or simply spend time with friends.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
The next big competition I have is our next Senior National Championships in January. Right now, I am focusing on learning some new dives and improving my technique for the season to come.
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