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Swapping the cliffs of the Adriatic Sea for the diving platforms of the Commonwealth Games

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  4. Swapping the cliffs of the Adriatic Sea for the diving platforms of the Commonwealth Games

Aidan Heslop used to stack shelves – now he stands on them, peering down into water 90ft below before diving off a cliff.

The old shelves belonged to Morrisons supermarket where the 19-year-old used to load potatoes.

The new ones are shelves built into rock cliffs from where the best divers in the world launch themselves down into the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.

Just like Olympic champion Tom Daley, who became the youngest winner of the senior British 10m title at the age of 16, Heslop has also shown his talent at an early age.

The Chelmsford-born athlete became the youngest diver to compete in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series four years ago. He made his debut in the 2018 season finale in Polignano a Mare in Italy.

Later this year, Heslop - who qualifies for Wales though his mother Helen - is set to compete for Wales for a second time at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Regular diving differs from the Red Bull cliff diving series, he says, but with a busy year ahead, the 19-year-old is determined to thrive in both.

“Red Bull diving is slightly different to diving, weirdly,” says Heslop.

“In normal diving, you kind of cheer for your team and stuff. It's got a real rivalry, whereas when it comes to high diving, it’s such a tightly packed group that everyone is like a little family.

“Everyone knows everyone, everyone wants to make sure that everyone else is okay, does well.

“So it’s just really pleasant to compete there. Every time I go to a competition, everyone cheers for me. It’s just a really nice atmosphere to be around when you’re there.”

The teenager was the first diver in 20 years to represent Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

That chance to make history in a red vest was all down to his mum - and a chance conversation at a party.

“It was a bit of an honour in a way. My mum is the Welsh side of my family, so she was extremely excited as well. She’s from Blaina, a tiny little town near Abergavenny.

“It was weird because we hadn’t even thought about it before until my coach mentioned it to my mum at a New Year’s party and she was like, ‘Why don’t we just get him to compete for Wales?

“My coach agreed and it turned out, the last guy, Rob Morgan was from 20 years ago. He was the last before me to dive for Wales.”

Aidan Heslop jumping off a cliff in the Adriatic Sea
Picture: Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

Aidan at the Commonwealth Games

Heslop finished sixth in the 10-metre platform and 12th in the three-metre springboard on the Gold Coast.

For a schoolboy, competing on the other side of the world, he reckoned he did okay.

“The last Games I did, I was only 15 at the time and it was the biggest competition which I had done at that point by far. It was literally the other side of the world, so it was a big deal.”

“It was a bit of a weird competition for me, but I really enjoyed it. I got into the final on the three-metre, which we weren't even expecting, and then to come sixth in the final on platform was great in the end.

“I was pretty ill whilst I was out there, which didn’t help. But overall, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a diving comp.”

With a second Commonwealth Games appearance now looming - and the chance to win a first medal - Heslop has a busy few months ahead.

As well as competing for Wales, he will be representing Great Britain at the World Aquatics Championships, organised by FINA (the sport’s governing body), in Fukuoka in Japan.

“This year is probably going to be the most packed year that I’ve ever done.

“The next thing I have on, is British Nationals which are in Plymouth. It’s ten-metre diving and it should be a fun competition.

“I haven't been able to compete with these guys in this competition for a while so it’ll be nice seeing everyone again.

“On the high-diving side of things, I have FINA in Fukuoka which I’m very excited for.

“And there are seven Red Bull high-diving stops next year, all over the world. The icing on the cake is the Commonwealth Games.

“So, while Birmingham is not quite as exotic as the Gold Coast, like last time, I’m just as excited for it.”

So, just imagine. You’re on a diving platform, 30 metres up on the side of a cliff. Surely, you’re going to get nervous … right?

“I do get nervous,” added Heslop. “But everything we do is a calculated risk.

“We don’t go up there attempting to do something that we know is going to get us hurt.

“We go up there with the intention of doing it right, first try.

“You get nervous. If you’re not nervous, then you’re going to try something stupid so being nervous is a good thing when you’re up there, really.

“But, it’s the same as anything, really. You get used to it. The more you do it, the less nervous you get.”

Aidan Heslop twisting in midair
Picture: Romina Amato / Red Bull Content Pool
It’s a sport that you can be a lot more creative with, which is the thing I really fell in love with.
Aidan Heslop

Heslop has been diving since the age of 12 and has been left mesmerised by the sport and what it has to offer.

“It was actually my brother who wanted to start diving,” he reveals.

“We started together, we were both working at the same level and then, eventually, my brother quit but I carried on into the bigger competitions and so on.

“It was actually my friend, Owen Weymouth, who got me into the high diving side of things.

“When I was about 11 we started trying it, so I was pretty young. But it was through other people really that’s I started trying this stuff, which is really nice.”

Training is a big part of Heslop’s commitment to the sport and he is giving it his full priority in 2022.

“I train eight times a week now and it’s usually about an hour and a half in the gym or dry dives - like the foam pits - and trampolines and weights and everything like that.

“And then about an hour or so in the pool.

“It’s actually more out of the pool than in the pool. I’m sure that’s the same with a lot of other sports, too. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that people don’t see.”

With 2022 already looking like an action-packed year for the youngster, Heslop is looking to throw everything at diving this year.

“I have had a job at Morrisons, stacking potatoes for the last year but luckily I’ve been able to put in my notice now that I’m doing well enough in my sport.

“It’s been fun working there. It’s kept my mind off diving 24/7.

“It was just something else to keep me occupied, but it was burning me out. It was hard doing a lot of work and training as well. I decided to finish there so I can focus on training this year and put everything into it.”

Looking at what the future holds for Heslop, he believes he can stay focussed and take things one dive at a time.

“I think I’ve put myself on the track that I want to be on at the minute. That is, being on the full Red Bull series and being at some of the highest levels for 10-metre diving.

“I qualified for Fukuoka in Japan so I’m really excited for that. I think my whole family is coming out to watch as well, so it should be a good year ahead of me.

“I don’t see myself straying off that course over the next five or ten years. This is where I want to be now.

I’ve got myself in this position and this is where I want to stay.”

And for anyone who thinks diving might feel repetitive, Heslop believes they couldn’t be more wrong.

“The thing I love about diving is that it’s not one of those sports where you just go in and do the same thing over and over and over again.

“You go in and learn new things every day. It’s a sport that you can be a lot more creative with, which is the thing I really fell in love with.

“You’re not going to lose anything by trying a bit of diving, so it’s 100 per cent worth giving it a go.”

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