Panther Profiles: Heger Takes Unique Path To Top Of Diving Charts
Nov. 14, 2012
MILWAUKEE - Just a few weeks into his sophomore season, few divers have started their Panther careers as strong as K.J. Heger.
After just over one year with Milwaukee, Heger has already broken the school record on the three-meter board that had stood for nearly 20 years, finished third and sixth on both boards at the Horizon League Championships and earned a trip to the NCAA Zone Diving Championships.
Not bad for someone who almost didn't pursue the sport.
"I didn't really get into diving until I was in high school," Heger said. "My real passion growing up was the trampoline."
While most people probably only think about trampoline as a sport every time the summer Olympics rolls around, Heger grew up around the sport and in a family that was very involved with it.
"I've been on a trampoline literally since just after I was born," Heger said. "My dad used to take me as a baby and do flips with me. As soon as I was able to jump, I was on a trampoline."
K.J.'s father, Karl Heger, was a prolific trampolinist for many years and was inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2007. Karl is an 18-time National Champion and won a combined 19 gold medals during his 22 years with the U.S. Trampoline Team.
It didn't take long before K.J. followed in his father's footsteps.
"I got up to the junior elite (level), which is one level below the highest," Heger said. "If I would have pursued that, I would have been competing for an Olympic trials spot."
Instead, Heger came to a crossroads where he essentially had to choose between pursuing his passion for trampoline or taking his talents to the diving boards by going to college.
"I really love both sports. That's what made the decision so hard," Heger said. "It was either a college education or continue pursuing trampolining. There are no college trampoline teams around, so it wasn't an easy decision."
Heger decided going to college was his best option and has been putting up impressive numbers while diving for the Black and Gold ever since.
Now, it is not to say Heger simply came to UWM and miraculously mastered diving. He was a standout at Guilford High School in Rockford, Ill. and put in a lot of time and effort leading up to the impressive numbers he has already posted.
His father also transitioned his talents on the trampoline to dive collegiately for Missouri and Northern Illinois, while his bother, Kevin, dove for one of Milwaukee's conference rivals at UIC.
"We've got diving in our blood, too," Heger said. "Most people know my dad for his trampoline work, but he was a very good college diver, as well.
"They (trampoline and diving) are alike, but at the same time they're very different. On the trampoline, you're going to your feet every time and every skill; diving you're going to your head. It's a little scary flipping in between both. I can do the same amount of flips on each, it's just a little different."
While it is indeed a different talent, it did not take long for Heger to have an impact on the diving scene here at UWM.
He won both boards in his collegiate debut to help Milwaukee to its first ever dual-meet win over Wisconsin last October, was named Horizon League Diver of the Week three times during his freshman campaign and broke the school record that had stood for nearly 20 years on the three-meter board twice, all just as a freshman.
"When K.J. sent us a tape and we started recruiting him in high school, we were very excited," Milwaukee head coach Kyle Clements said. "(Diving coach) Todd (Hill) and I saw a lot of talent and Todd could not wait to get him onto the boards here at Milwaukee.
"We knew he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and was good at football and there is a lot of power that K.J. can create off a trampoline or off a diving board. Did I think he would be able to produce the type of results he did right away as a freshman? Not necessarily. But, was I glad to see it? Absolutely."
While Heger had a tremendous freshman season at Milwaukee, he still wants to accomplish more. The sophomore said he wants to win at least one board at the Horizon League Championships this season and make a return trip to the NCAA Zone Diving Championships, if not the NCAA Championships.
With just one performance this season in the books, Heger has already set the bar high, again winning both boards against Wisconsin, earning NCAA Zone scores in both events in the process.
While he may return to the trampoline after his college days, it seems needless to say Heger's decision to dive here at Milwaukee has certainly been a good one.