Swimming & Diving Alumni Spotlight: Nancy (Brunet) Janik
Click on the above video for diving footage of Nancy Brunet Janick while she was an employee at Rocketdyne.By Dick DornanSpecial to PepperdineSports.com
MALIBU, Calif. - It was a career that made an indelible effect upon her life. It was a challenge that presented her with a similar degree of difficulty as her 'back one and one-half somersault with two and one-half twist' dive that she relished. For Nancy (Brunet) Janik, competing for the Pepperdine's men's swimming and diving team from 1978-1983 was a splash felt around the pool that earned her a perfect 10 in the hearts of many.
A Pepperdine graduate of 1983, Janik started her remarkable career in the sport of diving at the age of 10. This marked the beginning of a journey that lasted until 2006 as she competed against America's best divers in both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard. Her personal coach, Van Austin, was "a mentor and a person who poured his life into my life" and the architect of developing one of the United States' best female divers of her generation.
Janik's success in diving came about as fast as she left the springboard and entered the pool in one of her majestic dives. By age 14, Janik was a national champion at the 1975 Junior Olympics held in Lincoln, Nebraska, in both events. Two years later, she had her biggest challenge to date as she competed against women of all ages in the Senior National Championships. She didn't disappoint anyone as she finished third in the 1-meter and sixth in the 3-meter springboard competition.
Shortly thereafter in 1978, Janik's talent, will to compete and advanced maturity as a teenager earned her a special trip across the world to Russia and East Germany. She had the distinct honor of being the youngest athlete on the United States diving team as they competed against the superpowers in an international diving meet.
"It was awesome as a 17-year old to go to Europe," Janik said. "Here I am competing against the best in the world in Russia and East Germany."
Her achievements and accolades as a junior diver grabbed the attention of the aquatics world. Living in nearby Simi Valley, Calif., Janik graduated from Royal High School at age 17 and embarked upon what would become four of the most memorable years of her life. But first was the decision on where to attend college.
Janik had many offers from across the country to choose from and she ultimately chose the University of Texas. But before she could take the next step in her life, Janik's parents expressed hesitation about her decision because of her type-one diabetes medical condition, and they encouraged her to choose a school that was closer to home.
Janik received advice from Mike Finneran, a 1972 Olympic diver, who was also a Christian and a mentor in her life. He encouraged her to "honor your parents" and in so doing seriously considered her parents concerns.
Taking into consideration her strong, Christian upbringing and the wishes of her parents, Janik decided to dive into the blue and orange community of Pepperdine University while turning down the overtures of UCLA and USC.
Former Pepperdine swim coach Rick Rowland and current Waves swimming and diving coach, Nick Rodionoff, made a lasting impression upon Janik to bring her to Malibu. It was Rodionoff's decision to offer her a scholarship that cemented the deal. She came to Malibu ranked as one of the top-six women divers in the United States.
"Pepperdine was such an awesome campus," Janik reflected upon. "Being a Christian school was an extremely important factor as well."
Competing internationally against the world's greatest divers as well as practicing and diving versus America's best only strengthened Janik's mental toughness and determination to excel at the highest level. But at Pepperdine is where Janik would face her biggest challenge. Or one might think.
When Janik committed to Pepperdine in the spring of 1978, she made the decision to join the men's swimming and diving program. She was the only female on the roster and the first woman to earn a swimming scholarship to Pepperdine. Yet this didn't bother or cause any ripples in the pool amongst her teammates or fellow student-athletes. They embraced her with open arms and brought her into the Pepperdine family.
"I was welcomed into the team and I never felt out of place," Janik remembered. "It was amazing that Nick (Rodionoff) took the step to offer a woman a scholarship to compete on a men's team. I'm not sure how he convinced the swimming coach that this was a good idea. But after competing one season, he must have proved his point. He gave me the encouragement and confidence to do this."
At the time, the men's swim program was ranked in the top 20 of the NCAA. Rodionoff said Janik was a "lamb amongst lions" who had the heart of a warrior. Her competitiveness and overall skill level propelled her off the springboard and into Pepperdine lore.
"Nancy had what we called a 'full list'. She had all those difficult dives; reverse two and a half, back two and a half, etc. Dives at that time in the '70s very few women were doing," Rodionoff said. "The fact that she could do those dives allowed her to compete against the men. And our men were very, very good. They didn't get beat by anybody, other than Nancy."
Now in his 35th year coaching Pepperdine divers, Rodionoff will forever have a special place in Janik's heart.
"He corrected you to be a better diver. He gave me the confidence to compete at the highest level when I competed against the women at the Nationals," Janik stated. "But it was his encouragement that meant the most to me."
Behind the inspirational coaching and tutelage of Rodionoff, Janik won the 1980 Pacific Coast Athletic Association 3-meter springboard as a sophomore with a score of 456.10 points. She easily outdistanced teammate Curt Tibbits who finished fourth with a score of 425.85. In addition to her title, Janik claimed fifth place in the 1-meter springboard behind Tibbits who won the championship.
"She had an extreme amount of talent and courage," Rodionoff stated. "To do those dives you have to have the physical talent. No matter how courageous you are; if you don't have the skill then you can't handle it. But she was intelligent, business-like and got the job done. She was great."
"I was very systematic," Janik said. "When it came to my time with Nick, I would put myself into a mindset and give my full concentration to the corrections that he gave."
This feedback loop between Janik and her coach allowed her to focus attention in a way that would maximize the workout. This was a must for her as she was balancing her diving training schedule with the academic rigors of the Computer Science Curriculum.
Other accomplishments included Janik finishing third in the PCAA 3-meter event as a junior and qualifying for the 3-meter and 1-meter diving competition at the AIAW and NCAA National Championships each year during her career as a Wave. Competing against her talented teammates of Tibbits and Jeff Case as well as U.S. Olympic great Greg Louganis (U.C. Irvine '83) helped develop the mental fortitude that was vital in her success.
After a very successful career at Pepperdine, Janik continued to represent the United States as a diver and athlete around the world. She had the special opportunity to compete at the World Championship Trials and U.S. Olympic Trials.
In 1983, Nancy graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.S. Degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. She accepted a position at Rockwell International, Rocketdyne Division as a software engineer assigned to the Space Shuttle Main Engine Controller (SSMEC) project. Once this project was completed (on the launch pad) the company transferred her to another mission critical project, the Space Station Freedom project.
While at Rocketdyne, Nancy also continued to pursue her passion for diving; however, it was difficult working full time and trying to compete against athletes who were training full-time. Despite this, she continued to place in the top eight at the Senior National Diving Championships, which qualified her to compete as a member of the United States National Diving team.
She was assisted along the way by Rocketdyne's executive management who agreed to sponsor her in the Olympic Job Opportunity Program (OJOP). This provided Nancy more opportunity to train and get in shape for competition at the highest levels in diving.
"I will always be thankful for Rocketdyne giving me the opportunity to have some time off of work to train and prepare for the Olympic Trials," Janik said.
In 1986, she even made an effort to spread the word of God to men and women in Europe by sneaking Bibles through airport security and into the communist countries. It took a woman of courage and conviction to do this in a hostile environment.
Janik took a brief three-year hiatus from diving after she married her husband, Don, in 1989. From age 30 - 33, Janik competed for the U.S. National team in international meets. In 1992, she won the U.S. Masters National Diving Championships for her age group (30-34), setting new world records in the 1-meter and 3-meter. In addition, she set new American records in the 1-meter, 3-meter, tower and Grand Masters and those records still stand today.
Her amazing career came to an end in 1994 when Janik found out she was pregnant with her first child just after competing at the U.S. National Diving Championships in Moultrie, Georgia. Now happily married to Don for over 20 years, Janik is raising three children; Janae, 14, Joshua, 13 and Austin, 11.
All three children have taken up the sport of diving as well as gymnastics. Janik now spends her time home schooling her kids while "sharing my skills and imparting my knowledge" as she trains them in diving at the local Rancho Simi Community Park pool. Passing on the values to her children that Pepperdine taught her is of utmost importance in the Janik household these days.
"I have chosen to home school my children so that I can impart Christian values and character to my children," Janik stated. "Some of these Christian virtues include loving one another by treating each other with kindness, gentleness and respect. Serving one another, thinking of the needs of others first. Encouraging one another, using only words that build up and bless others."
"Being thankful to God for what we have, being content with what we have. Being generous with what we have, 'freely you have received, freely give'. Choosing to be joyful, even when we feel like complaining. Choosing to be peacemakers, even when we feel like arguing. Being diligent, taking initiative, working with a cooperative spirit. These are some of the character values I hope to instill in my children."
"Nancy is a woman of high moral character, and a person who loves Jesus. I believe that the college environment at Pepperdine is true to its spiritual beginnings and is driven from the top down on Christian principals," her husband Don said. "This has been evident to me in all of the conversations I have had with her professors, coaches and administrators that I have had the privilege to meet during campus visits."
"I know Nancy's parents, and I'm sure they found comfort in this knowledge when they sent their daughter here. Not all college campuses these days will leave a student's faith stronger at the time of graduation."
"I think one of the greatest decisions in my life was coming to Pepperdine," Janik added. "The Christian heritage was special. Learning and teaching the values that the university stands for is so important. Honesty, integrity, reaching out to others, being kind and considerate and asking for forgiveness. What a privilege and what an opportunity."
Even in 2006 at the U.S. Masters National Diving Championships, Janik dove one last time into the pool to share her love of diving with her family. Not to be denied, she finished in first in all three events, setting an American record for her age group (45-49) in the 3-meter springboard.
The Waves men's swimming and diving program eventually dissolved and became a full-time women's program in 1985 and remains that way today. Janik's success has set the bar for future women divers at Pepperdine.
"I've been fortunate enough to have about a dozen divers that have made National Championships and been finalists, and Nancy was one of the best," Rodionoff said.
Whether it is performing a front two and a half pike dive, spreading the word of God to others in Europe or teaching her kids the importance of values and ideals at home, Nancy Brunet Janik is one special person who made a positive impact upon Pepperdine that will never be forgotten.