Margo Erlam reaches her arms out as she prepares to dive while wearing a red swimsuit

Diver Margo Erlam has always opted to plunge headfirst into any challenge

For five years, Margo Erlam’s parents harboured doubts about their decision to let their 16-year-old daughter move away from home to pursue elite diving. Was the dream worth the distance from her family? Would they all regret it down the line?

In May at the Canadian Diving Trials in Windsor, Ontario, those doubts were laid to rest as Erlam dove to gold in the women’s 3m springboard, beating out the likes of two-time Olympian and multi-world championship medallist Pamela Ware, to earn her nomination to Team Canada for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Erlam started diving at only four years old, as she sought to copy her older sister Martine, who had caught the diving bug during swimming lessons. 

“I started going to my sister’s classes with her. And then I just found that I loved being in the water and jumping off the boards. That’s where my love of the sport started,” Erlam says.

Both Martine and Margo had the necessary prerequisite for diving–a lack of fear.

“I had no fear and no consequences really went through my brain,” Erlam says with a chuckle. “We both loved adrenaline. We grew up in Montana boating and hiking every summer. We both loved being in the lake, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and downhill skiing as well. We just kind of grew up with sports that were more of an adrenaline rush.”

The fearless four-year-old with an affinity for plunging head first into things steadily became a competitor on the provincial stage. But it was when Erlam saw her good friend, Caeli McKay, make the junior national team for the first time and wear a suit with the maple leaf on it, that Erlam knew she wanted to be on Team Canada.

Hence, the decision to leave her hometown of Calgary for Saskatoon, where she could train with Olympian-turned-coach Mary Carroll.

“My parents were not happy about it, but they were willing to give it a try,” Erlam says.

She first moved in with teammate Rylan Wiens’ family, before getting her own apartment at 17. Living alone at such an early age forced Erlam to develop more independence and resilience than many of her peers.

“I did feel like I had to grow up very, very quickly,” Erlam says. “I had to learn how to do things on my own–I had to call my mom a lot!”

It wasn’t just how to take care of herself that Erlam was learning, but also how to navigate the pressures of elite sport.

“I used to get very worked up in competitions. I remember at my first world championships in Budapest, I was having a nervous breakdown before the competition,” Erlam recalls. “Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to control those nerves. That was a major moment in my life that felt make or break, but it really wasn’t. This isn’t the be-all end-all of who you are as a person.”

Now that she’s headed towards her first Olympic Games, is there anything that Erlam wishes she could go back and tell her younger self?

“I’d probably tell myself not to take everything so seriously. And to not let other people’s comments get in your head. There’s a lot of [talk like] that in sports regarding body image. And for young teenage girls especially, growing up with that is hard. When you’re 16, you take everybody’s comments to heart. So I’d say to let some of that stuff go.”

Erlam posted a top-five finish with Mia Vallée in the 3m synchro at the World Aquatics Championships in 2022, where she was also in the top-10 in the 1m springboard. It was by far the biggest competition of her career at that point. Erlam and Vallée went on to win 3m synchro bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games where Erlam finished fifth in the individual 3m event. 

Erlam posted consistent results in 2024, but was a dark horse to take the top spot at the Canadian Trials. Erlam’s nomination to Team Canada will also provide her with a larger platform as a Métis athlete–an identity that she is still learning about herself.

“I didn’t know about my Métis background until a couple years ago. We started digging into it more because my great-grandma was adopted into a white family, so we didn’t know her background,” Erlam explains. “So being able to learn more about this and be at this level [of sport] where I can teach more people about Indigenous culture and hopefully get more recognition for Indigenous kids in sport is really important to me now.”

Erlam says that learning more about her family history and culture has been a powerful process. She will be one of several athletes with Indigenous heritage headed to Paris as part of Team Canada.

Until the Games, Erlam is all-in on training, with a schedule that usually includes around seven and a half hours of training per day. Half of the work takes place in the water, and half on dry land. The Canadian diving team will head to Edinburgh, Scotland for a training camp ahead of the Games.

At the senior national level, divers tend to focus on perfecting the dives they have in their repertoire, rather than learning new ones. Erlam says that she hasn’t learned a brand new dive in about five years, but she remembers the feeling distinctly.

“Learning a new dive is very scary. There’s nothing really that can prepare you for it,” Erlam explains. “We do have a belt system where someone can pull you on ropes, but there’s nothing that will really compare to actually doing it. You just have to trust in your aerial awareness. And we have bubble systems that break the surface of the water that can help it not hurt if you land wrong. But there’s not really anything that can simulate that feeling of learning a new dive.”

While she may feel more healthy fear than she did as a four-year-old, Margo Erlam is still plunging headfirst into any challenge that comes her way–the next one being the Olympic Games.

Rapid Fire with Margo Erlam:

If you weren’t a diver, what sport would you do?

ME: Probably gymnastics. Though I’d like to be a tennis player, since they make a lot more than I do!

Favourite dive?

ME: An inward two-and-one-half somersault pike! The number is 405B.

Team Canada athlete or team you’re most excited to see in Paris?

ME: Gymnastics! I will be there. Look for me in the stands.

Favourite Olympic moment?

ME: I would say Meaghan [Benfeito] and Rosie [Filion] winning bronze in London. I would watch them all the time on repeat at the Olympics. That was a big moment for me as a young kid,