What goes through your head before diving 28 metres off a cliff? Do you ever get used to it? We meet professional high diver Jessica Macaulay to find out
Jessica Macaulay represents Canada in the extreme sport of high diving. The 30-year-old has made four appearances on the Red Bull Women’s World Series podium. She enjoyed her most successful season in 2021, narrowly missing out on a first-ever win in Italy and this year finished in a creditable 5th position on the Red Bull World Series table, taking 3rd place in three events out of eight. We were intrigued to find out about her high diving journey, how she overcame her fear from staggering heights, and the women that have inspired her career.
Glorious: You were born in the UK, moved to the US and are now based in Canada, so tell us when and how your diving journey has developed.
Jessica Macaulay: I was born in the UK. I lived there for 6 weeks as a baby, then moved to Canada. After 2 years we moved to Malaysia because my dad worked in oil and gas. After 7 years in Malaysia my family relocated to Texas.
My diving journey began when I was 9 years old when we moved to Texas from Malaysia. I followed my sister’s footsteps and became a swimmer. Just a month into swimming I couldn’t stand it anymore, especially seeing all the divers having so much fun at practice. I made the switch immediately and continued diving throughout high school and college. After university I pursued diving in shows and that’s how my diving evolved into high diving.
After a few years of shows I had a couple high dives under my belt, so I decided to apply for Red Bull Cliff Diving. I was accepted straight away and began competing in Red Bull competitions for Great Britain. I was living in Texas and competing for GB, but GB doesn’t have a strong infrastructure for high diving, so I did a lot to progress in the sport by myself. During competitions I was on the receiving end of jokes about my many citizenships and I would poke fun and say that I would be diving for Canada or the States next.
During the summer of 2020 I received a message from Diving Canada asking if I would consider diving for the country. After hearing what Diving Canada has planned for the sport of high diving, I made the easy decision to move to Montreal and change my representative country to Canada. I now benefit from a high-dive that I can use year round, a coach, teammates and a strength coach. The atmosphere is really structured to help Canadian athletes succeed.
Glorious: For most people, cliff diving would be terrifying, so what attracted you to this extreme sport?
Jessica Macaulay: I am partly attracted to high diving because it gives me that adrenaline rush. I love the feeling of being afraid and doing it anyway. This sport has allowed me to build so much trust in myself that I couldn’t have built elsewhere. At first I thought high-diving was too scary. I could have never imagined doing the dives I’m doing today, but baby steps have allowed me to overcome all of my fears.
Glorious: It must be nerve wracking the first time you dive from a great height, can you remember and describe those emotions, and are they the same each time?
Jessica Macaulay: Yes, I remember my first high dive. I was diving into a tiny pool from a 1ft wide ladder from 20 metres. I didn’t do it because I wanted to. I did it because everyone else had done it so I couldn’t let my fear hold me back. If they could do it, so could I. I was terrified. I climbed the ladder insanely slowly and when I reached the top my heart was racing. High diving became less scary over time, but the fear never completely goes away. Now I only get truly scared if I’m learning new skills.
Glorious: Have you always been an adrenaline junkie? What other sports are you interested in/play?
Jessica Macaulay: I have always been drawn to sports that push me outside of my comfort zone. Diving was the source of that for most of my life, but within the last five years I have tried a few new activites to scare myself. I like to highline, which is slacklining super high. Imagine setting up a slackline between two mountains. I also really love lead climbing, and in the winter I enjoy going for cold plunges in the river.
Glorious: How do you control the fear factor when you step onto the platform or a cliff edge at heights of between 26-28 metres? Do you have a set pre-dive routine/strategy?
Jessica Macaulay: To keep myself in a good headspace before I dive, I like to reassure myself with positive thoughts. These days I don’t often get too scared, but if I’m having an off day, or I need to adapt to something (like waves), I tell myself that I am capable and I’ve done this hundreds of times. That’s usually all I need.
Glorious: Given the dangers, are injuries part of every competition?
Jessica Macaulay: High diving is extremely hard on the body. We are learning that the body can only withstand so many impacts. I have to be very careful with the amount of impacts I do during competitions because I have compressed nerves in my neck. If I don’t overdo it my body feels good. When I overdo it, it takes me a few days after a competition to get back to feeling alright.
Glorious: As a professional diver, what is your training schedule/do you have to follow a specific diet?
Jessica Macaulay: I dive three days a week and combine this with two weightlifting training sessions each week. I don’t follow any type of nutrition protocols. I probably have the most chilled schedule for a professional athlete. I am putting out feelers for what I want to pursue alongside my high diving career. With my relaxed schedule I have created a beautiful balance in my life.
Glorious: What do you prefer and why – high diving (off a platform) or cliff diving?
Jessica Macaulay: I prefer high diving off a platform in competition because it allows me to focus on my technique without compromise. I prefer diving straight from the cliff when I’m diving for fun because it feels more beautiful and natural.
Glorious: Where are your favourite places to dive and why, not just for the sport but for the lifestyle too?
Jessica Macaulay: My favourite locations to date are Switzerland and Italy. The competitions that Red Bull host in these locations are incredible. When I look out from the platform and see the beautiful location that can house thousands of fans, it lights me up before I dive. I also really love exploring Montreal with my friends. We have found a couple Coll quarries and bridges to spend our days jumping together.
Glorious: After a dive you sometimes have to walk back through a town to reach the steps again, mixing with the locals. Are these experiences all part of the fun?
Jessica Macaulay: These are the best cliff diving competition experiences. In Italy, when we have to walk through the town to get back to the platform, we get a chance to connect with the location and the locals. It’s part of what makes Italy one of my favourite spots to dive.
Glorious: Tell us about the Red Bull diving community/friendships with your Canadian teammates
Jessica Macaulay: The Red Bull community is a family. It’s difficult to tell that we are competing against each other because we love to see other athletes do well. I’m really happy to have teammates from Canada because when we train at home we motivate and push one another..
Glorious: The sport is still relatively new, but how would you like to see it developed/promoted to attract more female divers.
Jessica Macaulay: Since I have been competing in competitions, Red Bull has attracted new female high divers. To encourage more people to get involved in high diving from a young age, the sport has introduced a junior programme with camps for kids to practise feet first dives from 10-15 metres. Over the next 5 years we will all see many more new high divers in the sport.
Glorious: Outside of diving, what are your other interests and plans for the future?
Jessica Macaulay: Outside of high diving, I am a life coach. I help women build extraordinary lives for themselves. My plan for the future is to grow my business to show women what is possible.
Glorious: Who are your female icons? If you were hosting a dinner, which four women would you invite and why?
Jessica Macaulay: My female icons are Hannah Deindorfer and Brooke Castillo. I have looked up to these women for the past couple of years. They have really helped to shape me into the confident woman I am becoming outside of high diving.