Christie making a splash as Sunnybrook’s diving coach

Michael Christie is inspiring Moorestown youth to take the plunge into diving.

When Michael Christie was 9 years old, he followed in the footsteps of his older sister and joined the local diving team. What started as a summer pastime transformed into a lifelong passion.

As the coach of Sunnybrook Swim Club’s competitive diving team, Christie hopes to inspire that same love for the sport into his divers. This summer marks Christie’s second year at the Moorestown-based nonprofit swim club. Since stepping into the role, the team has expanded from 10 divers to nearly 40.

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Christie grew up in Delran and dived at Tenby Chase Swim & Sports Club. He said his older sister was a diver, and he just thought the sport looked fun. He went on to become a competitive diver competing on a Junior Olympic diving team that practiced at Trenton State College until his sophomore year of high school when he transferred to a team based out of Drexel University.

He went on to attend Drexel University having earned a scholarship for diving. While studying accounting and finance there, he developed a love for coaching. Christie began the same Junior Olympic team he had once competed on and realized he had a passion for teaching others the sport.

After graduating, Christie returned to Delran and went on to work in the finance department at Campbell Soup Company. He said after having his two children, he and his wife knew they wanted to live in Moorestown for the school system and were on the lookout for a home in town. They moved into their Moorestown home in 2014.

Last year, he was chatting with his next door neighbor who is on the board at Sunnybrook when he learned the club’s diving coach had fallen through last minute, and as a result, they might not have a diving team. Christie agreed to step into the role.

He said most diving practices are held in the morning, but to accommodate his schedule, Sunnybrook agreed to move practices to the evening. Three days of the week, Christie rushes home from work and heads to Sunnybrook for practice. He said the team also typically practices one day of the weekend and competes on Sundays, which leaves little free time during the week for much besides diving.

Despite his hectic schedule, Christie said coaching is his escape. He said there’s no greater reward than when one of his divers perfectly executes a dive and emerges from the water with a smile on his or her face.

His focus, however, is not perfection. While qualifying for championships is an accomplishment, he said his goal is building confidence. Christie said flinging yourself in the air and risking slapping the water or hitting the diving board is a frightening thought and requires confidence.

“It’s such a big part of being a child and growing up is building confidence in your abilities,” Christie said.

Eleven-year-old Audrey Barr can attest to Christie’s ability to inspire. She said she has been diving for four years, and she used to be frightened to try more complex dives. Under Christie’s tutelage, she said she learned how to slowly work on new dives and conquered some of her fears along the way.

Barr said Christie has cultivated an environment filled with positivity, warmth and good-humor.

“He’s so fun,” Barr said. “It’s much more of a family environment than a team that you’re just with each other. You’re bonding.”

Christie’s daughter, Anna, is also one of his divers. The 10-year-old said her father never rushes anyone into new dives they don’t feel ready for.

“He’s really supportive,” Anna said. “He won’t say, ‘Just do this dive.’ He’ll help you through it, and give it some time.”

The experience has also been a positive one for Christie. He said the sense of fulfillment he gets from working with his divers is in stark contrast to the stresses of work and life.

“This is my getaway,” Christie said with a warm smile as he glanced over at the divers lined up at practice. “This is just as much for me as it is for them. I love it.”

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