Seriff-Cullick dives into new sport

Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 was a gymnast before coming to Yale, but he found a niche for himself on the men’s diving team.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 was a gymnast before coming to Yale, but he found a niche for himself on the men’s diving team. Photo by Zoe Gorman.

For Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13, it was a chance encounter his freshman year that led him to the men’s swimming and diving team.

“We were in section the very first day doing introductions,” Seriff-Cullick said. “And one girl, then-captain Rachel Rosenberg ’12, said, ‘I’m on the diving team.’”

That was enough to pique his interest.

Seriff-Cullick had been a gymnast all his life, but when he was accepted to Yale, he was faced with a harsh reality: Yale did not offer men’s gymnastics.

“They wouldn’t let me work out with the women’s gymnastics team, so I looked into doing gymnastics at local gyms,” Seriff-Cullick said. “When I couldn’t make it work out, I started looking at similar sports.”

Divers contort their bodies athletically midair in many of the same ways gymnasts do and in many respects, diving is more similar to gymnastics than it is to swimming, according to Seriff-Cullick.

“Although our sports couldn’t be more different to watch and train, we are lumped into the same competition from the inception of the NCAA,” said head diving coach Chris Bergere.

Seriff-Cullick, then a shy freshman, said he was not anxious to jump at the opportunity right away. He waited on the fence for about a month before finally showing up at diving practice.

It was an uphill battle from there. Seriff-Cullick had to work hard to correct the habits he had learned as a gymnast. Things he worked hard to commit to muscle memory now had to be unlearned. It was the last thing a freshman needed on his mind.

Over time, however, the experience grew on him. Seriff-Cullick said he was considering transferring out of Yale during his freshman year, but the diving team kept him here. Then, when previous diving head coach Ryan Moenke resigned in 2010, Seriff-Cullick was faced with a similar decision about his future on the team.

“I thought this might be a good opportunity to leave [the team],” he said. “But my friendships with people on the team kept me there. I hadn’t built up such an affinity to the sport, but I loved the people.”

Seriff-Cullick said his relationships with the rest of the divers helped him improve over his years on the team. Now, along with seniors Paige Meneses ’13 and Megan Harada ’13, he sets an example for the younger divers on the team, Bergere said.

Seriff-Cullick’s dedication to the team this year has not gone unnoticed by his coach, who saw that Seriff-Cullick was more goal-oriented this year.

“Everyone on the team can see the difference Aaron’s commitment has made this year,” Bergere said. “I really feel Aaron has made remarkable progress this season. I couldn’t be more proud of his work ethic and attitude. His diving is really showing all the work he has put forth.”

The divers, who Seriff-Cullick describes as “the kooky cousins at the family reunion,” have been an oft-underrated part of the successes of both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. Both teams are undefeated this season, in no small part thanks to the divers. Bulldog divers took two of the top three spots in both the 3-meter and 1-meter events at this weekend’s combined meets against Fordham and Rider.

No matter how hard he trains, Seriff-Cullick admitted that he knows his chances are slim against a lot of his competition, who have been diving since childhood. But for him, it’s not all about the results.

“It’s not the winning that’s important,” he said. “It’s draining to compete when you know that you probably won’t win, but I have to remind myself that I’m not here to win — I’m here to dive. I love diving.”

Seriff-Cullick and the rest of the men’s team will compete next this weekend at Princeton.

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