Mary Bennett, a CPA and a masters competitive diver, grew up in Urbana, Illinois, the youngest of four. Her father was a landscape architect and her mom a housewife. She earned a bachelors in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1971 and a CPA in 1986 from the University of Illinois.
She owns her own CPA business based in Lawrenceville; the bulk of her clients are individuals and she also deals in the tax aspects of divorce, as well as multi-state returns. When she is not crunching numbers, she can often be found on the high dive, contemplating a plunge into the water below — as she explained to U.S. 1’s Jamie Saxon:
In Illinois, where I grew up, there’s nothing to do in the summer, so my mom took us to the pool. I was a swimmer first. I dove my senior year at college in Michigan and then joined the Peace Corps, volunteering first as a teacher in Liberia, then in Nigeria as a national swimming and diving coach. I competed in the 1968 Olympic trials but didn’t make the team. But I ended up being in the top 20 in the world in 200 and 400 freestyle.
Years later, while living overseas due to my ex-husband’s work, I was pregnant with my second child, and I read “The Woman’s Room” by Marilyn French, about how women in the 1950s were brought up — essentially, you had kids and stayed home and took care of them. I got depressed and went back to states during the summers and took accounting courses at the University of Illinois.
After coming back to the states permanently, my younger son and a good athlete, now 25, (Bennett also has an older son, 28), was diving with the Blue Dolphins at the College of New Jersey, a junior Olympic team. He ended up quitting but there was another dad who was diving, and he said, “Mary, come on, give it a try.” That was 10 years ago. I dive in the Masters, ages 55 to 59, but there are masters groups for ages 25 to 29, 20 to 39, and so on all the way up to 90 and over. There was once a woman who was 101 and competed. I want to be her.
I practice at TCNJ six days a week for a couple hours in the evenings, practicing my different dives on a springboard. I also stretch and do strengthening exercises and/or Pilates daily.
I find diving to be a huge release from my work. I might work from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then go practice and when I get there I’m a seething mass of frustration, but after I dive for 30 to 40 minutes, I’m calm and focused and the world is right. Since I dive with the Blue Dolphins, I’m diving with 9 to 18-year-olds; we’re all on the same team. I really like hanging out with the kids at TCNJ — it’s not just go and work out. I get to hang out with great people. There are also a few other masters divers who have joined. That’s huge.
I just came back from competing in Perth, Australia, but the first time I competed there was in the 2002 World Masters Games in Melbourne, where I earned a gold and two silvers. In Riccione, Italy, I got two golds — world records in the one meter and three-meter springboard, and a silver in platform. The next year, in Edmonton, Canada, I set two world records with three gold medals.
One of the things about Masters sports that I love is the camaraderie. I get together with Masters divers twice a year for competitions; last year I was in Miami and New York. If you can imagine something that you’re passionate about and getting together with a bunch of people who feel the same way, you can see it’s a very tight-knit group of people. My best friends are from Finland and South Africa and Lithuania.
In order for me to do my dives and work on learning new dives, I make sure that I stay stretched and healthy, or else I can’t dive the way I want to dive. I have to do it every day, for a half hour to 45 minutes.
My kids think it’s pretty cool. And they come to see me compete if it’s close by. A while back I got an E-mail from Geezer Jock magazine — I thought it was a joke — which said, “We’re looking for athletes to go for geezer jock of the year.” I sent it to my son to check it out and it turns out it was real. He works on an aircraft carrier so I tried to have him get everyone there to vote for me. The magazine had three winners per age group, and I won in my age group.
We’re constantly looking to get people back into the sport. There’s a dedicated core group of masters divers at TCNJ who would love to help you get into it or get back into it. If you want to learn to dive we will help you.
Blue Dolphins, the College of New Jersey. Visit www.bluedolphindiving.com or contact Candace Gottlieb at email@example.com or 856-287-0218.