This article, written by Emily Giambalvo, was originally published in The Red & Black.
Halfway through the diving portion of Georgia’s dual meet against Tennessee, Ian Forlini and his fellow seniors waited to be recognized. One by one, the swimmers and divers walked through a tunnel made by their teammates’ arms before being greeted by family members who held flowers.
Forlini embraced his dad, Jamie, and the two walked down the line of coaches standing on the pool deck. Forlini smiled and hugged the members of the staff with whom he’s spent his Georgia career. Moments prior, Forlini had finished second on the 1-meter, and not long after, he placed third on the 3-meter.
For most of the athletes, Forlini said, the emotional part of senior day arose from the reality that they’ll soon finish their Georgia careers. But Forlini is content with moving on to a new part of his life. Instead, his emotion came from how his mom, Lisa, could not be in attendance.
Just over two years ago, she died due to breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in the fall of 2008. Meets like this one are particularly hard, Forlini’s dad said as he teared up.
“Just wish she could have been there for some of the things that he’s accomplished because even if he falls off the board, didn’t matter,” Forlini’s dad said. “She just loved him, just loved to watch him have fun.”
As a sophomore, Forlini placed seventh on the 3-meter at the NCAA championship, the best finish of his Georgia career. That came a few months after his mom died. Diving, he said, became an escape.
“It didn’t really hit me until the later end of the season,” Forlini said.
Since his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when Forlini was 12, he told college coaches through the recruiting process that if her health deteriorated, he would need to frequently go back and forth between college and his Pennsylvania home. In the month and a half before his mom died, Forlini said he went home about five times.
“When he needed to be home, he was home,” said diving head coach Dan Laak, who went to Forlini’s mom’s funeral. “That was the least that we could do.”
Laak said he thinks the death of Forlini’s mom continued to weigh on Forlini through his junior year. As Forlini’s now in his senior year, Laak said he’s noticed how mature Forlini has become and how he’s mentored younger teammates. Forlini and Olivia Ball, who also placed in the top three in both events against Tennessee, are Georgia’s only senior divers.
Forlini’s mom and dad, both former swimmers, met while coaching a summer-league team in Southampton, Pa. Later, they were co-head coaches at William Tennent High School and also coached together at Centennial Aquatic Club. Forlini’s dad still coaches both teams, and Forlini’s older sister, Meghan, moved into the other co-head coaching spot at William Tennent when their mom died.
Unlike his parents and two siblings, Forlini pursued diving rather than swimming. He swam through much of his childhood, but his dad thinks Forlini wanted to be at least a bit different than his family members. Even if they were eating at a fast food restaurant, Forlini’s dad said his youngest son wouldn’t want anyone else to order the same meal as he did.
“He never wanted to follow what the norm was,” Forlini’s dad said.
As the lone diver in the family, Forlini is now inching toward the conclusion of his career. In less than a month, the Georgia team will head to the SEC championships, and in March, the swimmers and divers will finish the season at the NCAA championships.
Forlini wants to dive well, but he doesn’t dwell on rough meets. He said he used to be “hyper-focused about how I performed.” Now he’s more relaxed.
In between diving events at the dual meet against Tennessee, Forlini hung out with his dad in the stands. They both have breast cancer awareness ribbons tattooed on their wrists. And they both knew the 3-meter dives Forlini would soon perform were not what mattered most.
“I just think with what I’ve gone through,” Forlini said, “it gives me a different perspective on life and what’s more important to me.”