Ex-diver's wish to be a 'connoisseur of life'

17:23, Jan 31 2014
Gabrielle Armstrong-Scott
NEW TASTES: Gabrielle Armstrong-Scott has given away competitive diving as she pursues new interests.

Ever wondered what happened to dynamic little diver and master musician Gabrielle Armstrong-Scott?

In 2010 she went to the Commonwealth Games aged 14 years and 34 days, making her the youngest competitor in New Delhi and New Zealand's second youngest in Games history behind swimmer Monique Rodahl (13 years, six months and 25 days at the 1974 Games in Christchurch).

Today we find Armstrong-Scott in Hong Kong, at Li Po Chun United World College to be exact, where she is making a splash of a different kind.

Armstrong-Scott retired from diving when she was 14, burnt out, bored and sore.

She remains super active but a diving comeback has no appeal.

Li Po Chun United World College has about 200 students, 30 per cent local and the rest hand-picked high achievers from around the world generally on full scholarships.


Li Po Chun has a reputation for churning out world leaders and after the two-year course students typically take up undergraduate studies at top universities in the United States, Britain or Europe.

Armstrong-Scott is achieving marks she never got off the diving boards.

She is midway through her final year. At the completion of her first year she got the perfect score in Year 1 International Baccalaureate examinations.

That won't surprise anyone at her former school, St Catherine's College in Kilbirnie, where she graduated with NCEA Level 3 with excellence at age 15.

Armstrong-Scott is no nerd.

''Classes are very different to the raucous back in Welly,'' she says.

''Normally my classes are dead silent. Whenever I whisper a witty gag in chemistry I get a horde of impassioned glares from students, whose loss of train of thought may cost them that crucial 1 per cent in the final exam.''

She lists her favourite classes as Mandarin, geography and theory of knowledge which she studies along with mathematics, English, business and chemistry.

Classes finish at 1.30pm then Armstrong-Scott packs in as much ''real education''as is humanly possible.

She is part of a Global Issues forum, does English tutoring and has started up a 20-strong group called 'Swimming For Non-Swimmers'. ''My friend from Nigeria likes to call it ''Swimming for Africans''.

''It really is incredible to witness someone putting their face underwater or even just stepping into a pool for the first time ever.''

The only diving she does is of the scuba variety but her passion for music remains strong. She is a talented violinist and pianist and was the associate concertmaster of the Hong Kong China Youth Symphony Orchestra.

She says she is on mission to becoming a ''connoisseur of life''.

That means throwing herself into every opportunity that comes her way.

She and nine others students from Li Po Chun volunteered at a centre set up in Cambodia for sex-trafficked girls. Her stories are too graphic for these pages.

''I feel so lucky to have been born into such a loving family in New Zealand, when I could just as easily have been born into a poverty-stricken family in rural Cambodia and been sold by my grandmother for just a dollar.''

She has now run in a 24-hour race to stop human trafficking, running over 40km and raising $35,000.

Armstrong-Scott's future education will either be in the United States or back in Wellington. She is in the final round for a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina and will be interviewed in March.

She has also applied to other Ivy League colleges in the US and is crossing her fingers for a full scholarship.

If the cards don't fall her way then she will look at our own Victoria University.

''While back home over the summer holidays my mum [Mary Scott] suggested I get a job as a check-out girl, but I decided to send my CV into Parliament, where I worked as an intern.

''This made me realise that I would like to get more involved in the political world, so that is one avenue I'm thinking of going down.

''As I am interested in so many different things, I don't know where I will end up. However, I know that I want to do something influential to beneficially change the world in whatever way this might be.

''The United World College community has shaped me. It is impossible to accurately portray what a gargantuan impact it has had on my life considering the limitations of words.

''Before I came to Li Po Chun United World College, I felt as if I was living in oblivion. I knew nothing about the world and its fabulous intricacies that shape how we live.

''Now I feel as if the whole world has been opened up to me and I have developed an insatiable hunger to discover and change the world around me.''

Armstrong-Scott is still proud of her achievement of getting to the Commonwealth Games. She got 10th in the 10m platform and 11th in the 1m springboard.

She was the only diver in the New Zealand team. The Silver Ferns took her under their wing, Irene van Dyk in particular.

Retirement had its ups and downs.

''It was hard to find something to fill the gap of diving at first,'' she says.

''My life was incredibly structured which made it easy in some respects. I didn't have to make any decisions as everything was controlled by others and I just followed the orders.

''At first I found it very difficult to make the simplest decisions, such as whether to have cereal or toast for breakfast.

''Violin became something to fill the gap and I thought seriously about going to university to embark on a career in music.

''However, my curiosity of the intricacies that surround our world made me realise that I would not be content with sitting on my bum all day in any job, - nor being totally controlled by someone else.

''Diving was very tough on my body. The impact of hitting the water at about 30kmh from 10m high every day from such a young age has taken its toll, especially on my back and wrists.

''The last time I actually dived from the 10m was in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games because afterwards my back was too painful to do anything, really.''

Her new passion is writing. She has a blog named Honkers Bonkers (http://gabehk.wordpress.com/) and encourages me to read it and spread the word.

It feels like I have just interviewed our next female Prime Minister.