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It takes a village: Trucker’s daughter, Olympic medalist leans on community support

It takes a village: Trucker’s daughter, Olympic medalist leans on community support
Krysta Palmer, daughter of Schneider driver Mitch Palmer and a U.S. Olympic athlete, competes in women’s diving 3m springboard semifinal at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

In many ways, diving and Krysta Palmer are one and the same — there’s much more going on than meets the eye.

Talking to the willowy blonde for the first time, you’re immediately struck by her engaging personality and easy sense of humor. Listen a little closer, however, and you discover there’s steel underneath the skin.

And for that, she knows exactly who to thank.

“My parents have had a lot to do with how far I have come,” she said. “A lot of what my parents taught me, they taught through showing me. My dad was always working to pay the bills, and my mom was always traveling with me as a kid to go to all my competitions. They really showed me what dedication looks like.”

It’s not particularly newsworthy to hear an athlete give praise to their family for their support, but that doesn’t change how much Mitch and Vicki Palmer have meant to their daughter’s athletic career.

It all started when Mitch, who is a driver for Schneider, and Vicki decided a structured athletic activity would be good for Krysta. In fact, as Vicki tells it, it was practically key to their daughter’s very survival.

“Her brother, Devon, is five years older than her. They’d go out to play and I’d be in the house doing whatever I was doing,” remembered Vicki. “And they’d come home, and Krysta would be like, ‘Mom, guess what we did?’ And I’d be like, ‘What?’

‘Well Devon and I went in that wagon, up on the big hill around the corner of the house and he let me ride the wagon all the way down the hill. And I lost control of it, and I went into the ditch.’” Vicki said with a chuckle and a shake of her head.

“It just pushed me into a panic mode. Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get her into something athletic of her own,” she added.

Krysta’s grandmother suggested gymnastics for the rambunctious 5-year-old, an activity Krysta took to like a duck to water. But, unlike the other little tykes, she had a singular goal from the very beginning.

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“I started in gymnastics hoping to become an Olympian,” Krysta said. “But I had a knee injury at the age of 12 that really set me out of my sport for about a year to recover. I tried to return to (gymnastics), but I actually had grown a whole lot taller. I was trying to return to the sport in a completely different body.”

During her attempted comeback, Palmer noticed the trampoline at her gym and was captivated. After a period of doing both, she shed gymnastics for trampoline full time and got her first taste of national and international competition.

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For all her success, however, she couldn’t shake the injury bug and suffered two more knee injuries, one on the eve of a major international competition.

“She was national champion in trampoline, and she was going to go to Paris with her teammates to the VISA Challenge, which is an international competition,” Vicki said. “Four days before she’s supposed to go to Paris with her teammates, she injures her knee again. Four days.”

After riding along to the meet (what her father called a very expensive cheerleading trip), Krysta returned home unsure what the future held, if anything, in competitive athletics.

“The knee injuries really set me out of the sport and had me thinking, ‘I’ve got to pay attention to my health for the long run,’” she said. “I decided my health was the most important thing. I left the sport and tried to pursue an education, because education lasts for your lifetime and sport is only for a short period of time.”

She enrolled in community college in her hometown of Carson City, Nevada, trading the competitive arena for the library.

Then one day a friend who was a diver asked her to come watch him poolside at the community center, ultimately inviting her to give it a shot.

“(Krysta) did a couple of tricks off the high dive, and he said, ‘Wow! You really need to go see Coach Jian Li You up at Nevada at the college.’ So, she did,” Mitch said. “She walked on to the club team, and then pretty soon the coach asked her to be on the college team.”

Krysta entering the sport of diving in her 20s — an unheard of attempt; most of her teammates and fellow competitors has been at it since they were tots. But Jian Li, a former elite diver, knew a protégé when she saw one, and her instincts proved spot-on. Palmer not only competed; she also excelled her way into a full scholarship. In addition, she earned recognition as Mountain West Diver of the Year and NCAA All America honors.

Krysta Palmer Visits Schneider
During a Sept. 20, 2021, visit to Schneider, Krysta Palmer and her parents, Mitch and Vicki Palmer, were honored by “Team Orange” with a Sound the Horn event. (Courtesy: Schneider)

Her parents got to witness a lot of her competitive success, thanks to the indulgence of Schneider.

“With her competitions being in different cities around the country, Schneider oftentimes had an operating center or at least a transfer yard or whatever in a big city. So, we just worked with the company and my dispatcher in order to get routed to those cities when she had a competition,” Mitch said.

“They’re so good about doing that,” Vicki said. “We just absolutely love Schneider because of it. It’s just been fantastic.”

The icing on the cake was when the company made it possible for the Palmers to watch Krysta at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis; then followed that up with an internal campaign to drum up an army of fans from within the company’s employees. When Krysta made the squad bound for Tokyo, her parents weren’t the only ones who cheered.

“That’s what was really cool about Schneider,” she said. “(Indianapolis) was my most emotional competition, because all my life I’ve been chasing after this dream. It’s a nine-year dream in the making with diving, but it’s really a 24-year dream throughout my whole career. So, for my parents to be able to watch me qualify for the Olympic games was one of the most special and memorable moments in my career. It’s not just me that got me there, it’s my tribe of people.”

COVID-19 prohibited Mitch and Vicki from traveling to the Tokyo Olympics this summer, so they settled for a special setup in Florida that U.S. Olympic Committee set up just for parents, so they could watch the competition among other scheduled activities.

For her part, Krysta got off to a bad start in the games and nearly didn’t clear preliminaries, but she charged into the finals in her typical scrappy underdog fashion. She claimed the bronze to the delight of her parents and Schneider employees across the company.

Now, with her sights set on Paris for 2024, she’s grateful to the “village” that helped to raise a champion.

“My dad has always been my motivator; he’s always the one who’s picked me up. He’s really shown me what dedication looks like,” she said. “My mom’s always been caring and loving and passionate; she’s picked me up when I’d fall with injuries. She’s been so supportive throughout my career.

“And my coach really gives me a lot of confidence. No one expected me to perform well. No one had any expectations of me coming into the sport of diving,” she continued.

“She always says to me, ‘You’re the new tiger. There’s no pressure on you.’ Knowing that I was climbing the ladder quickly was exciting, because every time I got the opportunity, I’d showcase my diving and how far I’d come. I maybe always felt like an underdog, but I’m coming — and coming at you,” Krysta concluded.

Dwain Hebda

Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.

Avatar for Dwain Hebda
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.
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