By Joe Lanane

ELWOOD — Becoming an Olympic athlete requires years of dedication and training, and 15-year-old Mary Beth Dunnichay of Elwood is no exception. After six years of strenuous effort, she will officially realize her dream in Beijing this August as a member of the United States Diving Team.

The call from her coach came at approximately 11 a.m. Monday, about an hour later than the final decision was anticipated. Mary Beth’s mother, Marian Dunnichay, said her daughter was in good spirits leading up to the announcement despite the elongated response time, but the enormity of the situation is yet to fully take effect.

“We knew we did everything we could,” Mary Beth said regarding last week’s Olympic Team Selection Camp in Knoxville, Tenn., where she helped seal her fate as a member of the synchronized women’s platform diving duo. “It’s amazing — still hard to believe.”

Mary Beth and partner Haley Ishimatsu rallied from down 23 points heading into Friday’s fourth and final round of competition to capture an 11-point advantage over the next pair.

Her brother, Caleb, dives at the collegiate level at the University of Notre Dame after recently transferring from Auburn University. In superstitious fashion, he waited outside the facility in Knoxville before finding out his sister’s 346.98 score on Friday.

“I knew (she made the Olympics team) when they told me the score — that score was huge,” Caleb said. “They could win a medal if they do that again.”

The win capped two years’ worth of success for her and Ishimatsu, both of whom have also competed internationally together at the World Championships in Australia two years ago and at the World Cup in Beijing last March.

Their efforts helped ensure an Olympic spot for the U.S. team in the event, and ultimately helped land Mary Beth and Ishimatsu as the two divers to fill that void. Despite the excitement of the situation, Mary Beth said she is careful to not settle for simply making the summer games.

“It’s always been what we’ve been working for, but it’s not over yet,” Mary Beth said, insisting the challenge has just begun. “We have to go back and start to train even harder because to get a medal at the Olympics is going to take a lot.”

Still, Mary Beth said her family has always been supportive regardless of her success. Even before the official announcement, she was greeted upon her return from Tennessee on Friday with fireworks outside her house.

“The whole neighborhood was waiting in the driveway when (Mary Beth) pulled in,” Marian Dunnichay said before putting the accomplishment in perspective. “It’s hard to believe she can’t drive a car yet, but she’s going to go to the Olympics.”

The celebration culminated years of effort from not only Mary Beth, but also for the family and friends who have helped her along the way. Her sister, Danielle, attends IUPUI and frequently housed Mary Beth at her Indianapolis apartment between practices. Also, her brother Jacob serves as one of her strongest support beams at home as he prepares to enter his senior year at Elwood High School.

“She’s really been wanting it forever, and all the drives down (to Indianapolis) and staying at my apartment have really paid off,” Danielle said. “I used to go over and watch her in between classes and go pick her up … but we’re real close and I wouldn’t miss a meet for anything.”

Mary Beth’s father, Ned, said Marian has been instrumental to his youngest daughter’s success while he’s running the Dunnichay Funeral Home in Elwood. He is also Madison County coroner.

“Since I’m trying to work and take care of the business, I rely on my wife to take care of a lot,” Ned said. “We have a good family nucleus, and we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Mary Beth will travel to Pasadena, Calif., on July 23 for the final national competition — which is still undetermined if she will compete — before departing for Beijing on July 30. The Olympics synchronized women’s platform diving competition is expected to take place Aug. 12.

Road to the Olympics timeline:

July 9-22: Daily training resumes in Indianapolis

July 23: Depart for U.S. Nationals in Pasadena, Calif.

July 28: Travel to San Jose, Calif., for Olympics processing

July 30: Depart for Beijing, China

Aug. 8: Summer Olympics opening ceremony

Aug. 10-23: U.S. Diving competition commences

Aug. 24: Closing ceremonies