Hometown Hopefuls: Why Diver Jessica Parratto Came Out of Retirement
Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit NBCSports.com/hometownhopefuls for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer of 2024.
In 2021, diver Jessica Parratto went into the Tokyo Olympics planning for that competition to be her last. She won a silver medal in the Women’s Synchronized 10m Platform along with her partner Delaney Schnell – a result that blew her first Olympic appearance, in Rio five years earlier, out of the water. And then Parratto left the sport. After a lifetime of prioritizing diving, she was looking forward to the chance to, in her words, “finally be a normal person.”
But just about a year into Parratto’s retired life, Schnell started trying to convince her old teammate to come back. “I’m a realist,” Parratto admitted. “At the time, I was like, there’s a year and a half till the Games. I’m not that far removed. If I come back just for synchro, I don’t think it’d be too hard to do.”
A few months later, Schnell finally succeeded. “I didn’t do it because she wanted me to. I really did it because I wanted to,” Parratto said.
And now, she won’t stop until she makes it to Paris.
“Obviously, the goal is to get another medal. And the goal is to get a gold,” Parratto said. “If that happens or not, I still feel really content in my career. I know that I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I could.”
Parratto’s career started early. “I was raised on the pool deck,” she said. “Swimming and diving is very much my family’s life.” The small community she grew up in in Dover, New Hampshire has a vibrant swimming culture – a culture that was largely built by her parents. Mike and Amy Parratto spent more than 20 years coaching at the Seacoast Swimming Association, which is most well known for being the program that developed Jenny Thompson, who won twelve Olympic medals, including eight golds, between 1992 and 2004.
Although Parratto had built-in coaches, she said her parents never forced her into swimming or diving. “I feel like that’s what gave me longevity in the sport,” she told NBC Sports. “I’ve always loved it on my own.” Parratto’s mom was, in fact, her diving coach until she was 14. That’s when she moved to Indiana, to train with USA Diving. This past January, when Parratto officially decided to come out of retirement, step one was moving back to Bloomington.
“I really expected a lot worse,” Parratto said about her return to diving. “But then I’m like, okay, I’ve been doing these dives for 14 years now.” Deep down, Parratto said she had a gut feeling that coming back was the right decision.
As for negative thoughts? “I tried not to go there at all.”
While teammates and coaches are still trying to convince Parratto to come back for individual events, she’s pretty set on staying within the synchronized lane. “I think this is just the time to be a synchro specialist. That’s why I came back.” It’s a lot less training, and besides, she adds, “I like my body not hurting as much.”
Aside from managing long-term neck issues and dealing with a thumb injury this summer, Parratto is feeling good. “It’s been a lot smoother of a transition than I thought,” she said. Parratto has a strong bond with Schnell, her diving partner, which also helps. “It’s pretty seamless when we get back together just because we’ve been doing it for a decent amount of time now.”
At May’s Montreal Diving World Cup, Parratto’s first international meet back from retirement, she and Schnell got off to a rocky start when Schnell uncharacteristically hit her feet. Though Schnell was able to save her dive, she was rattled by the misstep. But Parratto encouraged her to keep pushing through, and they did. “It was a really good bonding moment for us and just being like, okay, we got this.”
In addition to returning to elite competition in Montreal, there was another positive for Parratto - her mom Amy was able to make the trip, her first international adventure to see her daughter compete since the Rio Olympics. Amy and Laura Cook, mom to Jess’s teammate Kassidy Cook, made their presence known, with posters in the stands celebrating their daughters on their paths to World Championships and the Paris Olympics.
“Not me and Kassidy being in our late 20s and our parents are making posters for us in the stands,” Parratto said with a laugh. “But you know what, they love us. And we appreciate the support.”
The familial support is strong, but trust in herself and her experience is something Parratto has had to learn over the years. “I try to remain zen in my head as much as possible, because the more I can remain that way leading into competition and on competition day, the more confident I feel.”
At the 2023 World Diving Championships in Fukuoka, Japan in July, Parratto and Schnell were 10th out of 12 pairs in the final following the second of five rounds. But the veteran pair didn’t panic, and in the final round, a 74.88-point dive sent them from fifth to third for a bronze medal. That result also earned a quota place for the U.S. for the Paris Olympics.
“I’m very, very happy,” Parratto told Team USA at Worlds. “Getting a medal is the goal we set out to do, and honestly to get an Olympic spot means the world to us, so we are just really excited right now.”
In Fukuoka, Parratto served as team captain for a young U.S. squad.
“It’s always fun to witness the kids on the team - I can say kids because I’m older, a lot older - experience their first Worlds and to see it through fresh eyes,” the 29-year-old said. “I remember being at my first Worlds at 17-year-old in 2011. So it’s really special. It’s funny, because I used to be that little kid and I’m the older, seasoned one now.”
It’s a role Parratto embraces, although she “doesn’t love” when her younger training partners in Indiana call her “grandma” - she’d prefer “Team Mom.” But through it all, she has hoped to impart the same wisdom her mom shared with her: “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, and don’t dwell on the past.”
Parratto turns 30 next June, right before Paris kicks off. When asked whether the 2024 Olympics will mark the end of her career, Parratto said, “Yes — For now.”
Longevity as an athlete is something Parratto continues to see, in diving and beyond. “I think, specifically for women, the people that have stuck around for multiple games, they’ll still peak in their early 30s, mid 30s. So no doubt we can be just as successful if not more successful later on in our careers.”
The “Team Mom” is more confident now than ever in her ability to return to the podium. “I’m just as good as I was and there’s still even more left in the tank.”