Longhorn legends: Diving Hall of Honor inductee Vera Ilyina
UT Diving Coach Matt Scoggin selected the best words to sum up Vera Ilyina.
"Vera was one of the greatest Longhorn student-athletes in any sport at Texas."
During Ilyina's two years at The University of Texas there was not much that she did not accomplish. Now, she has one more achievement, as she is one of six distinguished Longhorns who will inducted into the UT Women's Athletics Hall of Honor in November.
Ilyina dominated women's intercollegiate diving while at Texas. As a junior (1997) and a senior (1998) she was named NCAA Female Diver of the Year and won both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving NCAA Championships, making her a four-time NCAA National Champion during her tenure at UT.
She was the Big 12 Female Athlete of the Year in 1998 as well as a two-time Big 12 Diver of the Year in 1997 and 1998.
"While at Texas, Vera Ilyina was the definition of focus, hard work and dedication in the classroom, weight room, dry-land training and on the diving boards," Scoggin said. "Vera was a daily example to the rest of the team of someone with high goals as a student-athlete and someone who was willing to do all the hard work to achieve those goals."
Along with excelling in the pool, her academic endeavors while at The University were also extraordinary as she was a recipient of the 1998 NCAA Top VIII Student-Athlete of the Year Award as one of the top eight student-athletes across all sports for achievement in athletics, academics, and leadership. She also earned GTE National Academic All-America honors and was named the NCAA Woman of the Year for the State of Texas in the same year.
"Vera was an amazing student-athlete for Texas," said Dr. Randa Ryan, senior associate athletics director for student services. "She was simply the best -- a stellar student with a business honors degree and a National Champion and Olympian in her sport. She represents the essence of what our program is about."
After graduating from The University with a degree in international business, she continued to dive competitively at the Olympic level, representing Russia at four Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004) and three World Championships (1994, 1998, 2001).
As an Olympian, Vera earned gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in 3-meter synchronized diving and silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics in springboard synchronized diving.
For Ilyina, winning gold and reaching the highest level of success for a diver was a dream come true.
"Ever since I was seven years old, when I first started diving, it was my dream to win an Olympic gold medal," Ilyina said.
She credits coming to America as one of the factors that allowed for her reaching that goal.
"Coming to the United States and getting an education and being educated helped me achieve that goal because I kind of treated it a little bit differently after I came here," Ilyina stated. "Diving was my whole life in Russia and that put a lot of pressure on me, but when I came here I had something else in life. That helped me a little bit psychologically. Also just being here in the States gave me more pleasure in diving."
After the 2004 Athens Olympics, Ilyina retired from competitive diving and decided to gain experience in the business world before continuing her education at the University of Houston. She is working on her MBA at the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business and is also expecting her first child this December.
"I've been working on my MBA," Ilyina said, "and that is very exciting and I'm expecting a baby in December. That is the most exciting thing in my life right now and I'm ready for it."
Ilyina helps coach and develop young divers at the Cougar Diving Club in Houston to stay involved in the sport. She also helps assist fellow Russian teammates that attend the U of H.
Her busy schedule has prevented her from visiting campus recently and she looks forward to the Hall of Honor ceremony. She will be accompanied by a special guest from Russia to take in the event.
"I'm looking forward to being on campus," Ilyina said. "My mom is going to be here with me so it will be very exciting to come back and see all of my friends and the faculty I know. I'm excited about the whole thing."
The UT Women's Hall of Honor is an enormous triumph for those chosen and Vera Ilyina being recognized as a "Longhorn legend" is very fitting. She embraced all aspects of a student-athlete and realized a lifelong goal as an Olympic gold medalist. Being mentioned in the same breath as other Hall of Honor recipients is something not lost on Ilyina.
"It feels unbelievable and I feel very honored to be in the group with such great athletes," Ilyina said, "I didn't expect it."
But there is no doubt that Ilyina belongs in the Hall of Honor. After all, "Vera was one of the greatest Longhorn student-athletes in any sport at Texas."