Whether in gymnastics or on the diving board for Niwot High School, when Maddie Barkow twists everyone watching tends to shout.
She'd be mistaken for Supergirl if she wore a cape, but the junior is simply a high-flying talent in both sports and once again is an early contender for the Class 4A state diving title.
If only Barkow could have healed as quickly from an ACL tear as your typical comic book hero, she might not have missed the gymnastics season — one in which the Cougars won the Class 4A team title this fall.
But now that she is almost fully healed, she's ready to see what she can do as she challenges herself to get her degree of difficulty up throughout the year.
Barkow has finished third in 4A at the state swimming and diving championships each of the past two years. Last year was a good one, as she set a meet record at the Northern League Championships (538.80 points) and followed that up with her highest scores at state, earning that third place standing with a 490-point effort (Mullen senior Katie Russ set a 4A record with 552.20 points to win).
Since that meet, a lot has happened. Barkow's ACL injury actually took place as she was playing her best sport — she is verbally committed to Northern Colorado for soccer — and she had to have two surgeries to get the knee healing correctly.
The second surgery came in August, and she knew that would erase gymnastics for the year. Disappointed, she made it a mission to rehabilitate in time for the start of the diving slate.
As she enters competition, Barkow's knee issues might prevent her from getting a lot of height on the board. With that in mind, she is focusing hard on perfecting what she already feels is her best asset.
And her drive really comes from within.
"My coaches want me to learn new dives, but it's on me to want to be better and push myself," Barkow said. "I'm learning to get my difficulty higher on my twists because that really comes easy to me with a gymnastics background. There are things I won't be able to do with my knee, so I'm trying to go to my strengths."
"I think she's excited to be back diving, and (diving coach) Shawn Gregg and I continue to try and get her to try new stuff," Niwot head coach Sarah Stamp said, adding Barkow swims with the team often. "She is so committed to diving and to our team, it's awesome. I really think it comes down to us pushing her and her accepting the challenge. How much is she willing to chase after hitting new heights? We're going to bump that degree of difficulty up ... and she's going to be ready to nail every dive at state."
Barkow knows full well that she can't control the numbers the judges flip on the day of the state meet. But there will be a lot of eyes on her if not for the simple fact only two of the top six placers from last year — Barkow and Katrin Lewis of Evergreen — were not seniors.
A state title appears within reach, and it would be a first diving title for a St. Vrain athlete. But Barkow's goals remain quite simple.
"Improving a score is my number one goal and just polishing my dive set overall," Barkow said. "I want to get eights on all of them, or higher, and I know I can do that."