Where are they now?: Laura Wilkinson and Travis Mays
For goodness sake, somebody please tell Laura Wilkinson to sit down and take it easy for a while. She has been on a fast track since 1993 when, at the comparatively advanced age of 15, she began competitive diving.
Wilkinson has been in high gear the past 12 years as her athletic prowess has taken her all over the world. She has competed on national teams from 1995-2004, including two Olympic Games (gold medal in platform dive in 2000); two World Championships; five World Cups (bronze medal in platform in 1995 and 2004 team captain); two Goodwill Games (gold medal in platform in 1998); and one Pan American Games.
At The University of Texas, Wilkinson was an eight-time All-American who won NCAA platform titles in 1997 and 1999. A native of Houston, she graduated in 1999 with a degree in public relations and today lives with her husband, Eriek Hulseman, in The Woodlands.
"I was looking over the list of all my (career) results just the other day," said Wilkinson, a two-time USA Diving Athlete of the Year. "It did kind of hit me. I couldn't believe all I have done in that time. In a way, it is kind of a blur, but there are so many great memories. And all that competition, everything I have done in diving, is in large part responsible for the person I am today."
The person Wilkinson is today is one who is extremely active making speeches and public appearances and who is involved in a variety of community and civic endeavors. She also is back in training after taking a little time off following the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
"I am really enjoying life right now with so many things going on," Wilkinson said. "The biggest thing, though, is that I have the passion for my sport again. I am completely in love with this sport, and I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to do what they love."
It was love at first sight for Wilkinson, who did not begin diving until 1993.
"I had been pretty active in gymnastics up until then, but I got too tall (5-6) to get much better in gymnastics," Wilkinson said. "Some friends suggested I try diving. The training in gymnastics relates directly to diving, and I fell in love with it the first day."
Wilkinson's greatest athletic moment came in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. She came from back in the pack to win the gold medal in 10-meter platform diving. Among other things, it earned her a spot on a Wheaties box.
"That was kind of surreal, walking into the store and seeing my picture on all those Wheaties boxes," Wilkinson said. "I never thought I'd see a diver on a Wheaties box, let alone me."
Wilkinson took a two-year sabbatical following the 2000 Games. During that time, she underwent surgery to mend broken bones in her right foot. She returned to a tenacious training regimen and was considered a top contender for another gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
It was not to be, though. Wilkinson finished fifth, but she won the hearts of fans everywhere by facing defeat with the same humble grace and dignity she had shown in winning the gold four years earlier. As one writer put it:
"There should be some kind of tribute to what most of America wishes the world would see in its athletes. Wilkinson is that image." Wilkinson may be all class and grace on the outside, but she is a fierce competitor on the inside. She reveals a lot about herself with one of her favorite quotations:
"Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
At any Longhorns women's basketball game, you will notice assistant coach Travis Mays nattily attired all the way down to a classic bow tie. It's a look some might call old-fashioned, but for Mays, his outward appearance is a reflection of lessons learned long ago. Mays, a Longhorns legend and former NBA player, is in coaching because of an individual who influenced him during his days as a youth in Florida.
"The number one reason I am coaching basketball is because of my high school coach (at Vanguard H.S. in Ocala, Fla.) and because of all the things he did for me," Mays said after a recent Longhorns practice session. "He literally saved my life. If he had not had the influence on me, and had he not encouraged me to play basketball, I was headed for a life on the streets. The further my basketball career advanced, the more I realized what he meant to my life," Mays added. "I began to realize that coaching was where I wanted to end up, with the hope that I could have an influence like that on some young people today."
If that sounds a bit corny, so be it, because Mays' bow tie might be a pretty good symbol of a good way to conduct one's life.
Mays earned Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors as a junior (1989) and a senior (1990). He was second team all-America in 1990 when he averaged 24.1 points per game and led Texas to the NCAA Elite Eight. He ranks second in UT career scoring with 2,279 points.
Mays was a first-round NBA pick in 1990 by the Sacramento Kings. He spent three seasons in the NBA with the Kings and Atlanta Hawks and the eight seasons in European pro basketball. He was a first team all-star selection from 1999-2001.
Following his playing days, Mays returned to Texas and served as an assistant coach and scout for the San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA. That proximity to Austin caught the attention of UT Coach Jody Conradt and led to his current position on her staff.
"Coach Conradt told me that she always respected the way I played basketball," Mays said. "She said she wondered if I still had that same kind of passion for the game now that I was not playing. When she realized that I did, it started things moving toward my being here now."
Mays says he is often asked if he finds the same satisfaction in coaching that he did as a player.
"I'm not sure I have been coaching long enough to give a good answer," Mays said. "To me, satisfaction comes at the end of a long process of hard work. It's not after just one play, one game or even one season. I do, though, get a great feeling from watching the improvement of these players."
Mays says he had great respect for Conradt when he was a UT player and loved watching her teams, especially the ones with the great Clarissa Davis. So he no qualms now about being a man coaching women.
"Coaching is coaching and basketball is basketball," Mays said. "There is some difference in athleticism. The men (by size) can create their own separation. The women have to rely more upon execution. Overall, the men are more athletic. But there are a lot of women, like Clarissa, who are incredibly athletic."
Mays lives in Austin with his wife, Mirella, and 11-year-old daughter, Cherrell. He sounds like a man who intends to stay.
"I'm back in Austin, which I fell in love with when I was in school," Mays said. "I'm working for the school I love and back in the Erwin Center where I played. And I'm working for one of the best coaches in the history of the game. And coaching some great players, some great young ladies. This is really good."