If you ever see Maria Paula Quintero dive, you would probably think that the laws of gravity don’t quite apply to her. Her journey to the water is graceful and intentional ― more of a dance than a fall.
She was just 16 when she dove 65 feet from a platform for the first time, and 17 when she first competed in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, making her the youngest woman in the competition’s history to do so.
If you don’t know much about cliff diving, you should at least know that it is about as intense as any extreme sport could get; if you don’t enter the water at just the right angle at that height, you’re risking a concussion, broken bones or death. And each time Quintero dives, she’s got a really invested audience holding their breath. “My mom is always scared but she loves this sport,” Quintero says. “But I am the only woman [from my community] to do it so I have a lot of people supporting me in Colombia.”
Historically, Colombia has had a lukewarm presence on the international sports stage. The country has won 34 Olympic medals, and none have been in diving. In 2022, Quintero won a silver medal at the European Aquatics Championships, making her one of the most successful divers in Colombia’s history. Whether or not she sees it this way, each time she competes internationally, Quintero is carrying the weight of her country and setting the tone for what Colombians can do.
And of course the laws of gravity do apply to Quintero ― but somehow, she has developed the mental fortitude to use them in her favor. When she dives, all you see is confidence: the way she runs toward the edge of the platform, the way she somersaults dozens of feet in the air before landing with barely a splash into crashing waves below.
At a recent Red Bull competition in Boston where she dove as a wildcard, she glowed with purpose as she approached the diving board, which extended from the top of the Institute of Contemporary Art. She appeared steady and sure. But, she says, her nerves were in full effect.
“We don’t look scared but we are scared. We have thoughts going through our head like, ‘You’re going to die’ or ‘You’re going to crash at the bottom,’” she says. “So you have to say back to yourself that you have worked on this for a long time. You have trained all day every day — five hours a day. You are prepared.”
What carries her through each time she dives is the thought that she’s drawing from a legacy of successful divers in her country. She was first inspired by Orlando Duque, arguably the most famous high diver to come out of Colombia, and her coach is Miguel Garcia, another Colombian diving legend. But it’s the voices of her people and the women in her life that truly inspire her to keep showing up.
“The Colombian people have always been brave. I have this in my blood. We do everything and we push ourselves,” Quintero says. “I had a lot of role models at home. I saw brave women all the time.” Now, at 23 years old, Quintero knows exactly who she is and the power of her heritage. It’s that confidence in herself and her people — that rootedness in something, someone — that gives her the courage to jump off the precipice.