‘Anyone can do anything’: the 14-year-old diver going viral – and challenging stereotypes

Ekt’s a breathtaking dive, beautifully executed. Zeke Sanchez, aged just 14, stands on the diving board in the Arizona sun, throws his arms up and then arcs into the air, performing a backwards somersault.

In another, he performs a neat tuck. In a third he completes a full mid-air twist.

Zeke’s dives have gone viral, racking up more than 100m views on TikTok. Platforms like ESPN have shared his videos. And on Instagram, among a pool of reposts, Sanchez has received waves of praise.

“It is really phenomenal,” he told the Guardian on Sunday. “Seeing the positive responses makes me really happy because I think anyone can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

With the fame has come some criticism, directed at his body type. But his father, Freddie Sanchez, said he was proud that Zeke was overturning stereotypes. “People see these really small men or women doing these really great things.”

“I don’t think they expect to see someone a larger size doing those things," hy het gesê. “But Zeke has a lot of heart.”

“The things he does are not easy, it takes a lot of effort … Zeke is very dedicated. Not just to sport, but to everything.”

Anjanette Sanchez, Zeke’s mother, said negative comments only spurred her son on. “He is a strong individual and he is able to use it as motivation to keep going," sy het gese. “I give him a lot of credit for his attitude.”

Zeke himself chooses to see the positive side. “I can appreciate the comments”, hy het gesê. “Because [hulle] give me inspiration to keep working harder.”

And with his videos being shared all over the world, he hopes dive college coaches will notice him.

Sanchez started diving aged eight after a two-week summer program that taught him water sports like diving and water polo. “I really really liked it," hy het gesê. "Ek was soos, Mom, I don’t want to do water polo. I want to keep diving.”

Now Sanchez trains at East Valley Dive Club in Mesa, Arizona, under coach Lauren Lopez. “I really love the atmosphere and the teammates," hy sê. “We always have a lot of fun and we are all really supportive of each other.”

Since diving at the 2022 Arizona Regionals, his next challenge will be a national qualifier. Van daar af, the top ten divers will move on to nationals.

“I am super excited," hy het gesê, “I really hope I’ll be able to make it this year.” Zeke says that competing in college diving is his “ultimate goal”. “But it would be really cool to go to the Olympics too.”

Among the praise for Sanchez online, one comment stands out for Zeke. Underneath an Instagram post, actor Adam Devine wrote: “I have a new life hero.”

“I didn’t think I would be someone’s hero,” Zeke said. “I felt so happy that so many people can see how hard I work, to see what I do.”

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