ESPN.com editor’s niece dives for glory in Rio

EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN.com’s Andrew Ayres is watching the Rio Olympics with extreme interest. As an editor of the site’s NBA coverage, he’s working with reporters and producers on men’s Olympic basketball – particularly as it relates to Team USA. He also has his eyes on the Olympic diving competition. His niece, Jessica Parratto, is competing for Team USA in synchronized and individual diving competitions, including the 10-meter platform preliminaries this afternoon. Ayres, who joined ESPN on June 26, 2000 – Jessica’s sixth birthday – shares his perspective on watching his niece blossom into an Olympian.

We sat around our Thanksgiving table 10 years ago, an extended family taking turns prayerfully declaring what we were thankful for.

These expressions of gratitude were heartfelt and beautiful — but perhaps a little heavy. Leave it to the then-12-year-old Jessica Parratto to lighten the mood.

“I’m thankful for ‘Sims,’” she chirped mischievously, referring to the virtual-life simulation video game series.

ESPN.com's Andrew Ayres is an uncle of Team USA Olympic diver Jessica Parratto. (Andrew Ayres/ESPN)
ESPN.com’s Andrew Ayres is an uncle of Team USA Olympic diver Jessica Parratto.
(Andrew Ayres/ESPN)

That surprising entry got a perfect score from me. The youngest daughter of my older sister, Amy Ayres Parratto, she has since constructed a real-world dream, making the U.S. Olympic team as a 10-meter platform diver competing now in Rio.

She will step to the dizzying heights of that platform again today as the preliminary round begins. She already has competed in one event, finishing 7th in the 10-meter synchronized diving with partner Amy Cozad last week in the then-green (!) waters of Rio.

Her journey to Rio, including her becoming the 2015 NCAA 10-meter platform champ at Indiana, is well told here.

When I see Jessica in action, I see my sister Amy’s guiding hand in all this.

Amy became a great diver in high school in Cambridge, Mass., a tiny, twisting ball of fury leaping off the one-meter springboard (graduating just a few years ahead of a future two-time Olympian, Patrick Ewing).

When I think of the lumbering style my late father and myself share, it’s hard to believe we’re the same species as Amy and Jess, never mind the same family.

Amy went on to become an All-America diver at Wellesley College before meeting her future husband Mike Parratto in the shadow of a 10-meter tower at Harvard University.

The two of them went on to build a swim-club juggernaut in Dover, N.H.

I remember going to one Seacoast Swimming Association team picnic and meeting their prodigy Jenny Thompson. As a young sportswriter, I already had grown a little weary of 12-year-olds being touted as Olympians, but Thompson became the real deal, going on to collect 12 Olympic medals in all.

Little did I know an Olympian was brewing in our own family.

In pursuing her dreams, Jessica has traveled near and far with Amy, who is in Rio with Mike and Jess’ older sister Melissa.

Jessica appears to be having the time of her life – photo bombing her fellow Olympians during the opening ceremony interviews, posing with Draymond Green in her parade garb – just having an amazing time, having built herself an Olympic-sized world just as only dream-chasers can.

Back at that Thanksgiving table, I remember my words of gratitude: “I’m thankful that Jess is thankful for Sims.”

Jessica Parratto (L) and her  10-meter synchronized diving partner Amy Cozad finished seventh in the event in the Rio Olympics. (Photo courtesy of USA Diving)
Jessica Parratto (L) and her 10-meter synchronized diving partner Amy Cozad finished seventh in the event in the Rio Olympics. (Photo courtesy of USA Diving)