The teen moved cautiously to the edge of his fiberglass comfort zone, bounced twice and stopped.
Only then did Dylan Munn lean slightly forward in order to eyeball the water below.
A sophomore diver at Franklin Community High School, Munn walked back to his starting point, collected himself and began in earnest the approach he’s rehearsed hundreds of times.
As he twists and flips his body in midair, Munn aspires for points, for himself and, ultimately, his team.
What the scoreboard fails to reveal, however, is how Munn, diagnosed at age 3 as being moderately autistic, continues to push himself to overcome those barriers dealt to him by fate.
“At first I really wanted to swim, but a friend of mine was diving, and I ended up liking it,” Munn said. “It’s mainly a mental sport, so you learn to work through your fears.”
When it comes to diving, there is no shortage of potential phobias.
Everything from possibly slipping to crowd noise to landing incorrectly to the pressure of competition can go through a person’s mind.
And yet Munn, whose condition can cause him to struggle with anxiety or overstimulation in everyday life, in even the most routine situations, often appears completely at peace on a 1-meter springboard.
“When he’s on that board, he blocks everything else out,” said Andrea Munn, Dylan’s mother. “I don’t know why.”
Whatever the case, diving has been good for Munn — and vice versa.
Though Munn’s circle of close friends is relatively small, he jokes around with fellow Cubs divers Brion Brooks and Max Murr at practices. Like his teammates, Munn’s peroxide-hued hair by this morning will have been reduced to stubble.
“Dylan is without a doubt the hardest working member of our diving team. He doesn’t miss practice, he’s never late, and he brings a lunch pail and a hard hat and gets to work,” second-year Cubs swimming and diving coach Zach DeWitt said. “What I like the most about Dylan is his ability to persevere through obstacles.
“At some point his diving career will end, but the skills, perseverance and hard work will be carried into whatever endeavor he chooses to take on. I find that special.”
Munn, who turns 16 on April 12, has, in his mother’s words, grown leaps and bounds in the 13 years since the family was informed he was autistic.
“Dylan was diagnosed pretty early because he was very antisocial and didn’t like to be held. Everything was traumatic,” Andrea Munn said. “The message to us (from doctors) was that whatever we had hoped for in his life, scrap that. They were like, ‘You have to be more realistic.’
“My goal when he was kindergarten through third grade was just for him to graduate high school. We didn’t know if it would happen. Dylan was still fairly nonverbal.”
With the guidance and support of those at his educational stops — Northwood and Webb Elementary schools, Custer Baker Intermediate School, Franklin Community Middle School and now the high school — Munn has progressed socially, academically and athletically.
He first told his mother he wanted to dive in sixth grade. She was taken aback at first, but on Saturday she’ll be cheering him on as he takes part in sectionals for the first time at the Franklin pool.
“His coaches don’t expect less of him because he is a child with special needs. They push him, as they should, to be better and to do what is needed,” Andrea Munn said.
“His teachers know he is an athlete, and they know he has autism; but they don’t give him any slack. They push him and expect the grades to compete. Does he struggle? Absolutely. But overcoming the obstacles is a life lesson and something every student-athlete has to do.”
What’s in store
Andrea Munn reveals how the younger of her two sons loves to work outdoors cutting grass and doing whatever planting needs to be done when the weather gets warmer.
Basically, if it involves dirt, Dylan Munn is the man.
The sophomore also looks forward to his woodworking class at the high school and the role he plays within Franklin’s boys swim program. He participated in track and field as a freshman and plans to again this spring.
Lately, he’s shared with his mother a desire to someday work as a firefighter.
“I don’t know if he can handle that, but that’s what he wants. Dylan is very much a normal kid,” she said. “The good thing about him being in a sport is that he’s included. People don’t look at him differently, and he’s not treated differently. They expect him to put in the work.”
Seventh-year Cubs diving coach Josh Blackwell being one of them.
Blackwell sees genuine progress in Munn, who is an improved diver compared with this point last season. And with two more swim seasons remaining before he would graduate in 2016, this might just be the start of bigger and better things.
“Dylan has an outstanding work ethic. He tries incredibly hard at practices and is now more adaptable than I thought he would be,” Blackwell said.
“I as a coach didn’t have to adjust to him too much. What I do mainly is feedback, and with Dylan I may have to tell him things a few more times. Eventually he changes, and the things he does well he continues to do. Once Dylan gets a skill down, he tends to hold that skill.”