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Redwood Bark

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Lera Bondarenko takes a high dive to Columbia University

Moving from Kazakhstan, a country in Central Asia, to America at four years old, Lera Bondarenko was completely unfamiliar with the English language. It took her years to learn English and adjust to American culture, all while moving from state to state. By age 14, she finally arrived in Marin County, entering Redwood as a freshman. During these times of change, diving has been a stabilizing force for Bondarenko.

Junior Lera Bondarenko (second from the left) poses with her opponents after winning first place in the MCAL championship.

“I’ve been diving since I was four years old, and I started competitively when I was 10. No matter where I lived I always dove, and it’s been an extremely important part of my life, ” Bondarenko said. 

Even with the stability it’s brought for Bondarenko, diving has come with its own challenges, such as not being able to compete beyond Zones, the regional championships before Nationals for USA diving.

“Because I’m a permanent resident of the United States and not a citizen, I am not allowed to compete past Zones for USA diving,” Bondarenko said. “It can be frustrating working so hard all year and qualifying for Nationals [then] not being able to participate.” 

However, despite the disappointment in not being able to compete, a positive outcome emerged from the situation. 

“I still traveled with the team to Nationals, and I got to meet and talk to the Columbia University coach while I was there. After a lot of talking, he eventually asked me to come on my official visit, which led to me getting offered [a scholarship],” Bondarenko said.

Extending her arms, Lera Bondarenko contorts her body before hitting the water.

Bondarenko is coached by Miranda Maas for both Redwood and Divelab, her club diving team in Novato. Over the 10 years she has coached Bondarenko, Maas has been impressed by the growth in her mental fortitude and ability to overcome hurdles. 

“Her attitude and mindset is always positive, no matter what the situation is or anything negative that’s going on. She’s always had the athletic ability, but her mentality has really grown, and she’s able to get through just about anything,” Maas said.

Another one of Lera’s coaches is her father, Denis Bondarenko, the National Diving Champion of Kazakhstan and winner of Gold in the Asian Championships. 

“It’s always really great to have him coach me, because he knows how and when to push me and it makes me so much better. Sometimes it can be tough to draw the line between being a father and a coach, but overall I love it,” Bondarenko said. 

Because of her father’s success, expectations were always high for her. Yet, they’ve never fazed her, leading to her qualifying for the National Championships, going undefeated in the Marin County Athletic League and committing to Columbia University. 

“It’s absolutely insane that I’m going to Columbia, I’m so happy and I feel like the hard work has paid off,” Bondarenko said.

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About the Contributor
Matthew Knauer
Matthew Knauer, Sports Editor
Matthew Knauer is a junior at Redwood High School and is a sports editor for the bark. He enjoys playing baseball, surfing, and hanging out with friends.