How a Real Cliff Diver Tames Her Fears

How a Real Cliff Diver Tames Her Fears

Ellie Smart is a professional cliff diver, but not an adrenaline junkie.


A native of Missouri and former collegiate diver at UC Berkeley, with a Masters degree in sports and exercise science, Smart is the only American woman with a permanent billet on the 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Her next scheduled dive is 4 June, when she’ll attempt a dive off of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art into Boston Harbor. It could well be the most difficult dive ever done by a female competitor.


Smart says she isn’t fearless when it comes to being a competitive cliff diver, but says that “Having fear, but controlling that fear is key in our sport.” But how is it possible to control fear when the danger is so great and the disaster so final if she makes a mistake?

Much of her training involves a mental visualization technique.

Starting weeks before a major dive, Smart will begin visualizing it. Envisioning stepping onto the platform, how her body will feel as she moves through the air, how she’ll be positioned to hit the water. That way, when it’s time to do the actual dive during a competition, she will have already mastered it in her mind, which is critical to avoid going down the rabbit hole of “what if.”

Smart also uses a box breathing technique (two breaths in, two breaths out) “while envisioning a box with a different side lighting up on each in or out breath.” Finally, she takes time to reflect before the dive to remind herself both how prepared she is and how grateful she is to do something she loves.

Maybe Detective Emilia Cruz will start practicing some of these techniques. After all, when you’re the first female police detective in Acapulco, the stakes are just as high.

In CLIFF DIVER, the first murder mystery in the series, Emilia is forced to lead an investigation into the suspicious death of her lieutenant.

Soon the man’s sordid sex life, money laundering, and involvement in a kidnapping double-cross combine to create an ugly mess no one wants exposed. The high profile murder case could wreck Emilia’s career. But when her worst enemy in the police department emerges as the prime suspect, keeping her job might be the least of her worries.

As the investigation grinds on, Emilia compares herself to Acapulco’s famous cliff divers as they perform their thrilling show, diving off the rocky cliffs at La Quebrada, high above the Pacific Ocean.

“That’s me,” Emilia said as the youngest diver in the red suit stood poised on the platform again. The sinking sun was blood-streaked behind him, blotting out his swimsuit so that he looked naked and raw. “Going off a cliff, not ready for it. Not knowing if I’m going to hit the rocks and be smashed to pieces or not.”

Kirkus Reviews called CLIFF DIVER “Consistently exciting.” Leave your own review on Amazon here.

Cliff Diver

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