When the topic of conversation turns to life sports, the pursuits of golf, tennis, shuffleboard, bocce ball and swimming invariably come up. Rare are the times when diving is even thought of in that realm, much less mentioned.
But Eric Bomberger is far from your typical 50-year-old athlete. Whether it be from a platform or a springboard, Bomberger flies in the face of conventional thinking.
With all due respects to Briana Urich and Randy Blessing, Bomberger is the finest diver these parts have ever produced. But what’s amazing about Bomberger is that he’s still at it, in many ways still going strong.
“I’m still trying to keep myself in shape as much as I can,” said Bomberger, a graduate of Cedar Crest and a resident of Cornwall. “The body doesn’t take it as much as it used to. Like any athlete, your legs go first, so I’ve scaled down my dives. I can still do some of the more difficult moves, just not as regularly.
“I’ve found that there are other people like myself,” Bomberger continued. “Sometimes I go to meets and think to myself, ‘This is a bunch of older people diving.’ And other times I think, ‘It’s a bunch of older people living.’ But the diving world is kind of small.”
Yes, Bomberger still competes, and quite well, thank you very much. But that’s not what keeps him young – he doesn’t look like he’s gained an ounce since high school.
Bomberger’s fountain of youth is rooted in teaching and coaching his discipline to younger people, passing along his knowledge of diving.
“There are three parts to diving,” said Bomberger. “Your day-to-day practice, your warm-up for the competition and the dive itself. At practice, I look at the take off. But the entry is almost everything. You’ve got to get your palms on the water so you can pull yourself into the water.
“In the warm-up, you’re just trying to keep that heart rate down,” Bomberger continued. “I’m always so excited like, ‘wait until the judges see this.’ You have to want to get up there and show off for the judges. You’re trying to make your movements as machine-like as possible. What I tell my kids is to cut down on your mistakes. Most of the time it becomes so routine. Diving is an explosive sport because it’s a controlled jumping sport. And sometimes you get a sense that you cheat danger a little bit.”
Bomberger was somewhat of a child prodigy growing up in the 1970s – a time when every municipal pool had at least one diving board – winning age group events in Lebanon, Palmyra and Hershey. But he walked away from the sport following his sophomore year at Cedar Crest, and didn’t pick it back up again until he was a freshman in college at West Chester University. In 1987, Bomberger earned Division Two all-american honors while at West Chester.
But save for a shoulder injury a couple of years ago, Bomberger has been diving competitively ever since. Now he competes in masters’ meets about twice a year, and since 1997, he’s won 39 national titles in his age group.
“The diving family is relatively small,” said Bomberger, who has also won multiple Keystone State Games titles. “I do like coaching and helping kids too. But the most exciting thing I do ever is get on the board, and I think to myself, ‘I’m lucky to be able to still do this.’
“My goal is to go out there and beat up on all the other 50-year-olds,” added Bomberger. “I’ve kind had a nice long career since 1997. With the masters competition, most of us dove in college. But some guys get in this and really improve.
“It’s always friendly and fun. We all love diving. It’s a very unique group of people. Sometimes we feel like we’ve caught on to something that keeps us young. You’ve got to keep your body supple to do some of the things we do.”
Divers are said to peak around their 35th year. And the same was true of Bomberger, from 1993-96, and again from 1997 to 2004, when he starred in diving shows as part of the in-park entertainment at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster.
“At what point did I do my best diving?,” said Bomberger, “In 1995 and 1996 at Dutch Wonderland, I did my most difficult dives better. It was show business. When it was time, you put a smile on your face and did your dives the best that you can.
“Most competitive divers will hang it up after college, when they’re 22 or 23,” added Bomberger. “My career has spanned a long time. When I look back on it I wonder, ‘Did I think I’d ever be 50 and diving? No way!’ It is fun, and diving can be done safely if taught the right way.”
Bomberger has been an elementary physical education teacher in the Red Land school district in Harrisburg for the past 18 years. Not only has his job afforded him the opportunity to use the school district’s pool and diving well every day, it has also allowed him to reach youngsters through diving.
Bomberger also helps out with scholastic divers at Hershey High and Milton Hershey school when he can, something he did at Red Land, Central Dauphin and Central Dauphin East prior.
“It’s (diving) like bowling,” said Bomberger. “You’re trying to get a strike. You want to enter the water perpendicular with it.
“With kids, sometimes you can’t get them to love it as much as you do,” Bomberger concluded. “And that gets me thinking, ‘Is there a right time to step out?'”