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How a vacation to the mountains started Zachary Mikkelson down the path to become an elite diver – Post Bulletin

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How a vacation to the mountains started Zachary Mikkelson down the path to become an elite diver – Post Bulletin

RED WING — Sometimes family vacations can be the start of a sports career. That was the case with Zachary Mikkelson, a sophomore at Red Wing High School.

When he was about 10 years old, Mikkelson’s family took a trip to Colorado. They stayed at a resort with a pool and diving board and Mikkelson got on the board and started doing some dives.

“I’ve always loved the water, doing flips into the water,” he said. “And there was a guy there, I think he was a diving coach. He said that I had talent … that’s when I think I started being interested in the sport.”

A couple years later, when he was in seventh grade, Mikkelson joined the Red Wing swimming and diving team. He quickly discovered he had a talent for diving. Last year as a freshman, Mikkelson posted a narrow win to claim first place at the Section 1, Class 1A meet to earn a state berth. He went on to finish 10th in the Class 1A state meet.

This season he has made an even bigger jump in his performance and he has already set two pool records, one at the new Century pool and another in New Prague.

“He has incredible focus and incredible drive,” Red Wing co-diving coach Gimse Wedul said. “And that’s two things that are huge in any sport.”

Mikkelson joined a diving club in Rochester following his freshman season at Red Wing. That made his pool record at Century even more enjoyable this season. But his performance at New Prague was a real eye opener. He put up a score of 281.0. That’s a big overall improvement from his top score with six dives a year ago, which was 205.
“I think it’s just hard work in the offseason, like at Rochester (diving club),” Mikkelson said. “And I went to a few camps out of season, those helped.”

Carrie Hansen, Red Wing’s other co-diving coach, said Mikkelson has a real passion for the sport to go with his talent. She is not surprised by his surge this season.

Zachary Mikkelson flips on dive.jpg

Red Wing sophomore Zachary Mikkelson twists in the air while diving in a meet during the 2023-24 season. Mikkelson placed 10th at the Class 1A state meet a year ago and has a goal to place in the top five this season.

Contributed / Gina Rippentrop Photography

“I think the hard work and dedication have helped him learn a lot of new dives that have a higher degree of difficulty,” Hansen said. “So he’s doing a lot harder dives this year than he did last year.”

The 15-year-old Mikkelson said being more consistent has helped him put up strong scores this season.

“I was a little bit more hit or miss last year,” he said. “But putting in those reps wherever I was diving just helped a lot. And having teammates to push me has also helped, which is cool.”

Mikkelson has a brother, AJ, who is one year older. AJ joined the Red Wing team as a swimmer for the first time this year as a junior.

He also gets a lot of friendly competition from teammate Landon Nelson, who has also been an elite diver for the Wingers. Nelson, also a sophomore, placed 14th at the Class 1A state meet last year after taking third at the section meet.

“We push each other to get better, which is really cool,” Mikkelson said. “I know a lot of people don’t have that same opportunity so I’m pretty grateful for that.”
“When you get to practice with a good diver, which they both are, it makes competitions easier,” Hansen said. “Because you see a high level of diving every day.”

As he has grown and become a more accomplished diver, the 5-foot-9 Mikkelson has added a higher degree of difficulty to his dives. That in turn results in scores being higher, if dives are performed well.

Mikkelson said his best dives feature forward spins. One of his top-scoring dives is the front two-and-a-half somersault.

“I feel in a lot more control of myself in the air off the board and also in more control of my mind,” Mikkelson said. “I’m a lot less nervous than last year. I’ve just been doing it more and it feels better not to have to think as much.”

Red Wing diving art.jpg

Red Wing’s Zachary Mikkelson, left, and Landon Nelson both earned Class 1A state berths in diving during the 2022-23 season as freshman. The sophomores hopes to push each other to even greater heights this season.


Mikkelson also plays varsity tennis for Red Wing. But he trains all year long for diving. He has a trampoline at his house which he uses to improve his flips and body control.

“There’s been a ton of improvements,” Wedul said. “He’s just mentally making improvements in his head and being able to visualize what he’s doing and seeing.”

After winning a section title a year ago, Mikkelson has high hopes of achieving that goal again and then placing in the top eight at the state meet, which would earn him All-State status.

He had a score of 336 for 11 dives at the state meet a year ago. This year during an 11-meet dive, he has posted a high score of more than 420 points.

“I think that is doable this year for sure,” Mikkelson said. “… I think top five is probably my goal.”

Mikkelson hopes to dive in college after he graduates from Red Wing. He also wouldn’t mind coming close to the records set by former Red Wing great Turner Eckstrom, a 2010 grad.

Eckstrom was a three-time Class 1A state champion and holds the Red Wing school record for six and 11 dives as well as being tied for the state’s all-time best mark with 532.70 points.

“He’s got a ways to go, but he has a passion for it,” Hansen said. “And I haven’t seen that in a lot of kids.”

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