By Paul Mullin
Shopping, working out and spending time with her boyfriend: What Amanda Burke does in her spare time might not seem particularly unique, but what is different for the junior communication major and diver is how infrequently she gets to indulge in her favorite pastimes.
Since practices, meets, training and classes all compete for her time, Burke generally has one reaction to whatever free time she scrounges up: head home.
“I never see my parents,” Burke said. “I’m like their long-lost child who has become some diver they never see anymore — they do come to every meet though. They text me sometimes like, ‘Are you alive?’”
But her hard work has certainly paid off. Whether her talent is natural, a product of her hard-working approach to her sport or a combination of the two, the Southampton, Pa. native has spent her career at Rider developing quite the portfolio of honors.
To name a few of her more recent distinctions: Rider’s Female Athlete of the Year for the 2007-2008 academic year, Rider Athlete of the Month for January and March of this year, Female Diver of the Meet at both the 2008 MAAC Championships and the 2008 Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships and the first Bronc swimmer or diver to ever qualify for the NCAA Championships.
She has competed in the NCAAs two years in a row now, finishing 39th and 35th in the one- and three-meter dives, respectively, in 2008, and improving those positions to 20th and 24th during her second trip last month.
“It’s hard to believe that I have accomplished all the things that I have because I never expected to,” Burke said. “I’ve never in my life thought that I would go to the NCAAs.”
“I just never knew that I would be at this level, and it makes me appreciate it more. If I’m having a rough time, [Diving Coach Dennis Ceppa] always reminds me of the things that I’ve accomplished and that helps me realize that it’s real, so it’s kind of overwhelming.”
This all started when Burke was just 6 years old, and although she already had the drive and the love for the sport that has made her an absolute menace for her competition, she didn’t start diving seriously until she got to Rider.
“I didn’t come here particularly for diving,” Burke admitted. “I knew I wanted to dive in college but I didn’t look at big schools for diving because I really wasn’t that experienced as a diver, [having only competed in the one-meter event].
“I picked Rider because it was close — my other choice was West Virginia and that was five and a half hours away — so Rider was a good choice, and now I know it was an even better choice because I’ve gotten a lot better here.”
Her future teammates provided part of the draw as well, keeping in touch with Burke over the summer even though she didn’t dive her freshman year.
“Now they’re my best friends,” she said.
Practices, Burke said, were a little intimidating coming in as a freshman, but she got used to it quickly.
“I like intense workouts and I love working out and I love diving, so the more the better,” she said.
And, finally, her first chance at competition came in the form of an Oct. 21, 2006, meet against the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Burke placed second in both the one- and three-meter dives, quite the start against a Retriever team that was known for regularly winning its conference.
“I was really nervous because I hadn’t competed in the three-meter before, so I just kind of took things as they came and did OK,” Burke said. “Looking back now it’s like, ‘Wow, I’ve come a long way.’ And it’s nice to look back and know that I’ve progressed, it helps you keep going.”
And her progress has certainly been noticed, even outside of all the awards she has collected.
According to Burke, opposing coaches have begun to recognize her at the big meets and come over to strike up conversations, something she says is an added bonus.
“It makes me feel like I’m branding myself and Rider, and that’s important with diving because it’s individual,” she said. “It’s nice to get recognized because I’m working my butt off.”
According to Burke, her love for the sport and the fun factor have been the biggest components in keeping her competitive throughout her career.
“I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to diving,” she said. “I have to learn to become better at it and I know that, so it’s kind of frustrating for me right now. But I’m trying to have fun with it, and the more I realize it’s fun the better I do, so I have to remember that.”
But with the fun comes the occasional challenge, and one of the main ones for Burke is dealing with missing a lot of classes to stay competitive and be at important meets for herself and for her teammates.
“They don’t expect [missing so much class] from individual athletes, but when you’re an individual you have to try and go around and be at these meets, and it’s hard,” she said.
For Burke, the immediate future holds another year of diving for the Broncs, a year she hopes to use to qualify for the NCAAs for a third straight year and hopefully earn All-America status for the first time in her collegiate career. And as for further down the line?
“USA Diving has this international team and I would like to become part of that, and then I hope I do get to be in the summer Olympics,” she said.
There is also an urge to give back to Rider, she said, “because of all the things it has done for me athletically and academically.” She mentioned some work with the Athletic Department as a possibility. And maintaining the connection will be helpful in other ways as well, she said.
“When I’m staying in training, I’m going to stay with my coach right now,” she said. “He’s gotten me this far. I don’t think I could put my trust in another coach like I do with Dennis.”