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This article appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of NCAA Champion Magazine.
By Gary Brown
Like many young girls, Paige Kortman’s first “athletics” experience was in ballet. Obviously, though, from the photos on this page and on the cover of this magazine, Paige Kortman is not a ballerina.
“I got kicked out after about two weeks because I would never listen to my
instructor, and I would just do cartwheels everywhere,” said Kortman, who slipped off the slippers for a barefoot approach.
Indeed, those cartwheels she did as a kid have turned into pikes, tucks and twists – good enough to finish fifth in the one-meter competition and ninth in the three-meter at the 2011 Division II Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
Now as a sophomore at Wayne State in Detroit, the Holland, Mich., native is looking for a bigger splash in events that reward a small one.
“I’ve never actually stopped to think about how high my dreams in this sport actually are, but I just know I want to keep improving as time goes on,” she said.
Kortman’s family background has provided her a unique perspective on life. She was adopted as an infant by a white couple and as a young girl began noticing how members of other families looked alike. Not hers, though. One of her three brothers, who is Asian, also was adopted.
Sport: Swimming and diving.
School: Wayne State (Michigan).
Major: Exercise science.
Athletics accomplishments: Finished fifth and ninth on the one- and three-meter boards, respectively, at the 2011 Division II Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
What you didn’t know: In the Kortman family, when the children turn 13, they go on a camping trip with Dad. After their 16th birthday, Mom takes them on a mission trip. Paige’s journey took her to South Africa for 16 days. “The poverty there is a lot different than the poverty here,” she said. “But even they were able to be thankful for what they had, which makes me more appreciative of all the opportunities I have.”
“My mom told me that when I was younger, one day I just came up to her and asked, ‘Why did God paint me brown?’ And I guess that’s when she told me I was adopted,” Kortman said. “I always kind of knew there was something different about me, but I don’t think it ever really affected me until I got old enough to understand.”
What Kortman understands now is to appreciate diverse backgrounds.
“My parents always reassured me that it’s OK to not be like everyone else,” she said. “That experience has made me more open to people in general. Growing up, my parents always taught us to never see color. You have to see people for who they really are.”
Who Kortman really is depends on her mood.
“She can be goofy and funky or she can be quiet and withdrawn,” Wayne State diving coach Kelly LaCroix said. “What I like most is that she’s very humble, which is probably because of her upbringing. Paige is a coach’s dream. She’s a pleasure to have on deck, she works hard, she stays focused and she’s competitive.”
As a diver, Kortman is fearless. “You have to trust yourself to be able to do the dives,” she said.
She also enjoys the “edge” that comes from launching off the board and performing antics few would attempt.
“I guess knowing that what I was doing was risky kind of gave me a thrill,” she said of her early days in the sport. “It’s weird because whenever I try something new I’m usually a little scared about it, but afterward I realize that it’s not that bad.
“I just like flipping around, I guess.”