Into new waters

After growing up in Pittsford, New York, Kasijaden Natarajan followed his passion for diving to Iowa City to begin both his collegiate diving and coaching careers.

Kasijaden+Natarajan+commutes+to+the+Mercer+Aquatic+Center+or+the+Coralville+Recreation+Center+everyday+for+high+school+dive+practice.+

Erinn Varga

Kasijaden Natarajan commutes to the Mercer Aquatic Center or the Coralville Recreation Center everyday for high school dive practice.

By Zaira Ahmad and Esther Park

After student-athletes took the leap and left their hometowns to dive for the University of Iowa, they were met with unexpected frustration. Following the 2021-22 school year, the University of Iowa cut its men’s swimming and diving programs due to budgeting issues. Despite the program ending, one of these athletes, Kasijaden Natarajan, hoped to continue his diving career at Iowa and found an outlet for his passion through coaching. 

Natarajan’s diving journey began in his hometown of Pittsford, New York where he gave the sport a try because of his siblings. 

“I did [diving] when the rest of my siblings did it,” Natarajan said. “I was the last one to join it. I did karate instead so I offered them, if they tried karate, I would try diving.”

What seemed like a simple deal with siblings turned out to be the discovery of Natarajan’s new passion. Following his graduation from Allendale Columbia in Brighton, New York, Natarajan moved to Iowa to attend the University of Iowa as a diver and business student.

“As a freshman [in college], I was on the men’s swimming and diving team before that got cut. I was [also] here to join the business school … so it was just a good fit for my athletic and academic career,” Natarajan said. 

After the program cut, Natarajan took on new opportunities to further his diving career. He started off by coaching the University of Iowa’s women’s swim and dive team. He also worked at the Iowa Diving Club every Tuesday and Thursday during his sophomore year. 

At Iowa Diving Club, Natarajan had the chance to mentor high school-aged athletes. A few months after he began coaching, Liberty diver Ainsley Young ’23 and City diver Greta Stanier ’23 approached Kasi with a proposition. Their high school dive coach had recently quit, and the two were hoping to find someone to take his place. After some communication back and forth, Natarajan found himself coaching divers on the Trojan Bolt swim and dive team. He felt coaching high school athletes would help him stay connected to the sport. 

“I just wanted to find another way to be passionate about the sport that I’ve dedicated so much of my time to, and I wanted to give that experience to other kids,” Natarajan said.

I just wanted to find another way to be passionate about the sport that I’ve dedicated so much of my time to, and I wanted to give that experience to other kids.”

— Kasijaden Natarajan

At just 19 years old, Natarajan believes the small age gap has a large influence on the relationships he builds with the divers.

“I’m a little more approachable because most of the time high school coaches are their teachers and they have different dynamics with them,” Natarajan said. “So they’re much more open with me and we are able to communicate much better. It’s a good thing for especially high schoolers who need someone to talk about things that are going on in their lives.”

Aimee Varga ’24, a diver on the Trojan Bolts Swimming and Diving Team, believes it is easier to connect to Natarajan due to his recent experience in the sport. 

“The one benefit that we do have is that his [college] diving career just ended, so he’s still really familiar with diving and knows everything about it,” Varga said. “He knows what it’s like to do the sport and how tough it is, especially mentally, and he understands if you’re having a bad day or can’t get through a dive.”

Despite being a full-time college student and coach, he adjusts his schedule every week according to whatever help is needed from his divers.

“I am an undergraduate student. I coach [high schoolers]. I help out the college team. And I work on the side as well. So it is extremely difficult, but once you get into a routine, anything’s possible with a lot of coffee and very little sleep,” Natarajan said. “It is difficult, but it’s definitely doable.”

Although coaching comes with its challenges, Natarajan remembers why he keeps going. 

“Just seeing [the divers] improve the same way you would, helping out someone who’s trying to learn something new in general, you’d like to see them succeed,” Natarajan said. “I remember my high school seasons and I remember exactly what they’re feeling. And it’s kind of fun to see them face those challenges that I faced and see how they fare.”

On the national level, Natarajan notices struggles within diving. Despite diving being one of the most viewed sports in the Olympics, it does not gain as much attention in the United States. 

“It’s difficult sometimes, especially at the college level, getting funding and being appreciated for what you do as an Olympic sport,” Natarajan said. “It’s always difficult because diving isn’t underappreciated in other nations.” 

Regardless of the challenges diving offers, the feeling Natarajan receives from the sport keeps him motivated.

“[Diving is] a safe way of getting an adrenaline high because it is incredibly difficult mentally and incredibly demanding physically,” Natarajan said. “There’s really nothing like jumping and flipping through the air that comes close to it.”

There’s really nothing like jumping and flipping through the air that comes close to it.”

— Kasijaden Natarajan

Natarajan also appreciates the closeness of the diving community.

“Diving is a very tight-knit community … I know people in college now at almost every major university who I dove with when I was 14 years old,” Natarajan said. “So you stick to it. Once you get on the circuit, everyone knows everyone.“

As they strive to seek improvement, it is common for high school divers to put pressure on themselves, which may lead to negative self-talk. 

“[Kasi] tells us quite frequently to not be so negative. All the divers are like, ‘Oh, this is gonna go terribly’ or ‘We’re gonna smack.’ He’s like ‘Don’t be hard on yourself, think positively,” Varga said. 

Along with promoting a positive mindset, Natarajan also makes sure to push the divers to be their best. 

“He is one of the [coaches] who pushes me the most.” West High diver Rowan Russell ’26 said. “I’ve learned a lot more and gotten a lot better than I have with other coaches.”

One of the unique ways Natarajan helps the divers improve is through physical demonstration of the dives.

“He mimics [the dive] and then he will retell it to you,” Russell said. “He definitely knows what he’s doing and he makes sure that we know what he’s thinking.”

As he continues his journey as a coach, Natarajan keeps his hopes and goals for the Trojan Bolts Swimming and Diving Team in mind. 

“I’d like to bring a couple of these girls here in high school to the state [meet] and hopefully continue their diving career at a club and try to get them into college,” Natarajan said.

This story was originally published on West Side Story on November 19, 2022.