I love challenges. Whether it's playing a game or finding the right way to tell a story, I don't back down. But on Saturday I faced, without a doubt, the most challenging and unique experience of my budding journalism career.

The 2014 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series made its first visit to Texas at Hell's Gate at Possum Kingdom Lake. It was the second stop out of seven in the series and the only one in North America.

I had heard of this competition before, but had no real foundation for what to expect.
(Casey Holder)
I simply knew that 12 men and seven women would jump off the side of a cliff into water. I knew they had to be good divers to do somersaults and turns in the air before hitting the water. All of the Olympic diving I ever watched at least prepared me for that much.

Right?

On arrival, the first thing I noticed was about 6,700 people in boats and kayaks filling most of the lake at Hell's Gate. Then I found the platforms. The men's platform was perched at the top of the cliff, extending five feet from the edge and 90 feet above the water. Below that and to the right hung the women's platform, which was lower than the men's but still daunting at 60 feet.

As fellow Graham Leader reporter Casey Holder and I boarded the boat that would take us right in front of the platforms, we passed people and animals, and much of our time was spent just waiting. Waiting to watch these men and women plunge into the water at velocities we were about to translate from imagination to reality.

Men hit the water at speeds ranging from 53-56 miles per hour; the women at 45-47 mph. This is almost nine times greater than the speed reached from a dive off of a 10 meter platform.
(Casey Holder)


“Once you jump off there's no going back,” Great Britain cliff diver Blake Aldridge said. “And that's a massive fear to deal with.”

Once the divers started jumping, I faced my own obstacle. I had never shot video of something this extreme and fast-paced. It took a few tries before I could follow each diver all the way to the water and even begin to catch the beauty of the dives.

I was nervous, but my fear paled in comparison to what the athletes must have experienced. No matter how graceful the jump looks, landing in the moving water full of creatures makes the sport so perilous.

Read the entire story in Wednesday's Graham Leader.
(Casey Holder)

(Casey Holder)