Attitude is everything for Gophers’ Bjorklund

Ryan Schuster

The 22-year-old looks like he has just gotten out of bed, as he slowly strolls around the pool at the University Aquatic Center during practice. He is barefoot and clad in yellow shorts and a white 1996 Big Ten Championship T-shirt. The young man stops for a moment and scratches the stubble on his face as if trying to remember something important.
He wears the look of a tired teenager lounging around the house on a Sunday morning. Don’t be fooled, however, by senior diver Isaac Bjorklund’s leisurely approach to diving practice. He tends to business and lays it all on the line when it matters the most, whether he’s diving in a close meet or helping out a teammate.
“Isaac brings things to the team that since I’ve been at Minnesota no other diver has brought to the team,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said. “Isaac is the most team-oriented diver we’ve ever had. He cares about the entire team. He has gone out of his way to get to know all the swimmers and to support them all. That doesn’t happen to most divers at most colleges.”
In addition to being a team-player, Bjorklund thrives on pressure situations. He won the Minnesota state diving title on his last dive in the state championship meet his senior year at Irondale High School, and he has come through in the clutch often at Minnesota.
“I like competing in big pressure situations,” Bjorklund said. “It gives you the chance to rise to the occasion. I’d like to be the guy who pulls it out in the end.”
“He’s a competitor and he doesn’t like to lose,” Dale said. “He’s very good under pressure. He generally can do his best diving when the team needs him to.”
His performance under pressure and relaxed persona have defined Bjorklund’s four-year diving career at Minnesota. The three-year letterwinner from New Brighton has placed in the top 20 in the 1-, 3- and 10-meter diving events at both the 1994 and 1996 Big Ten Championships. As a sophomore, he qualified for the NCAA meet in both the 1- and 3-meter events.
It’s his heart, not his talent, however that defines Bjorklund as an athlete and as a person.
“He’s not a specially talented diver, but he trains hard,” Gophers diving coach Kongzheng Li said. “I think that he has a great attitude.”
During practice Bjorklund often shows his low-key, fun-loving character. He can be seen spending as much time talking with his teammates and joking around as practicing diving.
All of that changes on the day of a swim meet, though. In contrast to his laid back approach to practice, Bjorklund remains completely focused on the task at hand during competitions.
“I tend to just concentrate on what I’ve got to do,” Bjorklund said. “It’s always a challenge to compete against people who are sometimes almost as good or better than you are.”
Bjorklund didn’t always match up as well as he does now when competing against other divers. He has improved leaps and bounds since his freshman year.
After four years of competing at Minnesota, the senior tri-captain’s successful college diving career is quickly drawing to a close.
“It’s kind of weird because I don’t really feel like one of the older guys,” Bjorklund said. “I’m almost done. I’m four months away from being done with my collegiate career.”
There are some goals that Bjorklund would still like to accomplish before he leaves. He hopes to finish in the top four at the Big Ten Championships in February.
Bjorklund also wants to earn a chance to dive at the NCAA meet at the Aquatic Center in late March. In order to compete at the NCAAs, he will have to qualify at the NCAA Diving Zones in mid-March, which will also be held at the Aquatic Center.
After Bjorklund’s senior season concludes, he hopes to compete in the Senior National swimming and diving competition this spring. He is on pace to graduate next fall, and wants to attend medical school the following year. The rest of his future remains up in the air, like so many of his crisp dives. Regardless of what happens the rest of his life, Bjorklund has certainly enjoyed the challenges he has overcome and the experiences he had in his collegiate diving career.
“I like the personal challenges and the ability to compete against myself,” Bjorklund said. “It’s really challenging. You have to overcome challenges and learn new things.”
In a few short months, Bjorklund’s Gophers diving career will come to an end. His coaches and former teammates will undoubtedly miss his ability, teamwork and presence in close meets next season. What they will probably miss the most, however, will be his heart.