By Jordan Godwin
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The story seems simple. Two siblings join a sport, fall in love with it, and become world-class athletes. But that’s certainly not the case with the Livingstons.
Jessica Livingston’s mother, Janine, enrolled her daughter in a diving lessons program one summer, and when the instructor saw the nine-year old’s potential, she asked her to continue diving.
When the next summer rolled around, Jessica took lessons again, and again, the same coach asked Jessica to join her team.
“I told her ‘No, it’s too cold to dive during the winter,’” Livingston said.
It wasn’t until she was finally convinced that she can dive in an indoor pool that Jessica finally started taking diving seriously.
From there, the Livingstons became a diving family as Jessica’s younger brother Drew followed in his big sister’s footsteps.
“Drew got involved as a tag-along,” their father, Robert Livingston, said. “Their mother took Jessica to diving lessons and Drew wanted to do it, too. Jessica got serious into diving at age 11 and they both escalated from there.”
A plethora of state and national championships, U.S. Olympic Trials and an NCAA championship later, the Livingston siblings are standout divers at the University of Texas.
Jessica, the 2007 NCAA platform champion and two-time All-American, is a senior. After placing fourth at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in the platform, and just barely missing a spot to compete in Beijing, she’s ready to move on to new things.
“I’m going to miss the sport a lot,” Jessica said. “I’ll miss a lot of aspects of it, but I’m ready to try something new. It’s been a long run for me and I’m ready to expand into something else.”
Like many college seniors graduating in May, Livingston is already feeling the pressure from today’s job market. “Right now, I’m in the ‘please help me find a job’ area of my life,” Jessica said.
But that’s what her diving career has prepared her for.
“She’ll find that she’s going to have to work even harder on the job hunt than the pool deck, but she’s worked hard in her studies and just like in diving, I think that will pay off for her,” her father said.
Texas diving coach Matt Scoggin knows that Jessica is more than ready for the real world.
“She’s so good at getting herself physically strong at the right time and mentally, she’s unbelievable under pressure,” Scoggin said. “Her parents nicknamed her “Big Jessie” because when the lights and cameras are on in big situations, she has the ability to step up and hit the ball out of the park.”
But according to Robert, the nickname seems to have a different origin.
“When Jessica was a young teen, she had decided that “Big Jessie” would be her name when she became a professional wrestler,” Livingston said.
When professional wrestling didn’t work out, Jessica committed to the University of Minnesota and Australian coach Mike Martens. After her freshman year, Martens went back to Australia and Jessica moved to the Forty Acres. At the same time, her younger brother Drew, who’s four years younger, was starting to make a splash at The Woodlands High School, just north of Houston.
“After she transferred to Texas, I came to visit and knew it was where I really wanted to go,” said Drew, now a freshman. “I turned into a huge Longhorn fan and knew this was the place for me.”
The 2008 National High School Diver of the Year placed third in the platform at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. Now, Drew’s enjoying diving more than ever and has some lofty goals in mind.
“I’d love to win multiple individual titles, maybe even this year,” he said. “But I came here to win a team title so hopefully we’ll get a few of those while I’m here.”
And goals beyond that would have to include the 2012 Olympic games in London, right?
“You definitely think about it and dream about it, but the most important thing right now is working hard, diving for the team and getting my degree,” Drew said. “I’ll go for the games and if I don’t make it, that’s fine, but if I do make it, that’ll be something very special in my life.
For now, Drew enjoys having his sister as a teammate, and seeing each other outside of practice hasn’t yet taken its toll.
“They’re really neat to watch because usually when you have a brother and sister around each other a lot, they tend to annoy each other,” Scoggin said. “But in their case, they joke and kid around in a fun way. It’s kind of refreshing to see.”
One of Jessica’s special moments at UT came not in the pool or on the diving board, but on the football field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“I won the NCAA Championship in ’07, but when I came back the next fall, I got to go on the football field and be announced to the stadium before a game,” Jessica said. “That was just the coolest thing because we’re in a sport that doesn’t really get recognized, so to have that kind of recognition at my school was great.”
Heading into her final month of diving, Jessica – with Drew tagging along – will travel to Missouri, for the Big 12 Championships Feb. 26-28. The NCAA Championships will be held at Texas A&M March 19-21, where Jessica and Drew hope to shine for their last meet together.
“It’ll definitely feel a little weird next year when she’s gone,” Drew said. “I’ll be the only Livingston here.”