Kristen Hayden: Diver beat learning disability to become 1st Black woman to win national title

Kristen Hayden, who recently transferred to Indiana University, paired with Quinn Henninger for a victory in the mixed synchronized 3-meter event


                            Kristen Hayden: Diver beat learning disability to become 1st Black woman to win national title
Kristen Hayden became the first Black woman to win a national senior title in the winter diving championships (Instagram/@krishayden)

Kristen Hayden battled a learning disability in her formative years and went on to become the first Black woman to win a US national senior title on Monday, December 13, at the USA Diving winter national championships.

Hayden, who recently transferred to Indiana University, paired with Quinn Henninger for a victory in the mixed synchronized 3-meter event. Their dives earned them a total score of 286.86 points, three points ahead of Carson Tyler and Anne Fowler. That said, this was the first synchro competition together for Hayden and Henninger. Now, Hayden has joined Mike Wright to be the only Black divers to win US national titles, after the latter won on a 1-meter springboard in 2012, NBC News reported.

RELATED ARTICLES

Celebrating Althea Gibson: How the 1st Black player to enter a national tennis tournament broke racial barriers

Tokyo Olympics: Top 10 swimmers from Katie Ledecky to Caeleb Dressel

“I don’t think words can even describe the feeling,” Hayden said after the win. “You read about people like that, you watch Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, but when it’s yourself, it’s insane. I think the whole diving community is headed in the right direction and I just want to be a good example for young Black Americans or any minority really for diving in the US.”



 

Battling learning disability

23-year-old Hayden, who also became the first Black American diver to earn a spot at the world championships in May in Japan, began the sport at 10. The Hillsborough, New Jersey athlete quickly became a talented diver, but often had difficulty in understanding everything her coach said to her. At the same time, she was also struggling at school.



 

“I knew I was not dumb. However, it would take me longer than everyone else to do tasks such as grasp a concept, read a page in a book or finish a test,” Hayden told Team USA last year. “My frustration grew until I was tested and discovered that I have a learning disability. I have a Central Auditory Processing Disorder, which is the inability to understand spoken language in a meaningful way in the absence of what is commonly considered a hearing loss.”

The condition can reportedly cause the brain to take twice as long to process information and could explain why Hayden read slower and took longer to finish a test. Her brain couldn't immediately distinguish between short vowel sounds, impeding her ability to fully grasp "certain phrases or statements or instructions." The budding athlete enrolled in The Lewis School of Princeton shortly after her diagnosis, as it specialized in students with similar learning disorders. 



 

Hayden accepted the challenge head-on and sharpened the tools she needed to overcome her hurdles. She soon began excelling in academics as she had in athletics. Before she could complete her senior year, she relocated to Indiana to train under coach John Wingfield and then dove for a year at the University of Michigan. She eventually arrived at the University of Minnesota, where she took the 2019-2020 school year off to focus on preparing for the Olympic Trials in June, and finally transferred to Indiana University this year. “If you want to do something in life, it may take time and a lot of repetition, but it’s worth it," Hayden told Team USA when asked what was her greatest lesson from diving.



 

Hayden is now set to compete in the 3-meter synchro with partner Margo O’Meara, as well as the individual 1-meter and 3-meter events, according to NBC News.

If you have a news scoop or an interesting story for us, please reach out at (323) 421-7514