MERIDEN — Kamrin Dawkins was the picture of perseverance during her time as a diver and student at the University of Connecticut.
It was, the Meriden native said, “The best four years of my life and the worst four years of my life.”
Dawkins, now 22, has her UConn degree in hand and has embarked on grad school at Emerson College. The path she’s walked since graduating from Platt High School in the spring of 2016 provides valuable lessons for student-athletes who may follow her.
Namely: The learning curve from high school to college can be steep both in athletics and in the classroom.
“The moment I submitted my last exam on a 8 a.m. on a Saturday, I didn’t know how I did it, but college was done,” Dawkins recalled this week. “I had a lot of stress and it was an instant weight off my shoulders. That’s when I felt it would be OK. It’s finally OK. All of those stressers were gone.”
Dawkins departed for Storrs after an All-American career at Platt that saw her reach the State Open in three different sports: diving, gymnastics and hurdling. She was the inaugural Female Athlete of the Year when the Record-Journal launched its “Best of the Bunch” awards event in the spring of 2016.
Dawkins entered UConn that fall as a walk-on in diving after being recruited by now former UConn coach John Bransfield. Her major was Pre-Kinesiology, and it quickly proved to be a trial.
“Math and science aren’t my strongest subjects, and I had biology and chemistry,” Dawkins said of her first year. “I wasn’t feeling good about that and I failed both.”
“She initially chose a major heavy in science and that buzzed her ears,” Bransfield recalled. “She was rocked by the studies and she was quiet and reserved, so we didn’t know she was half-drowning until the grades came out.”
In Dawkins’ second semester of her freshman year, she took different courses, including an Intro to Speech and Communication class. It led to a new major: Speech Pathology.
“Then something clicked,” Dawkins said. “This was something that I wanted to learn about. It was challenging, but not brain-wracking. From there, my academics and athletics turned around.
“It took a little bit, a little too long for my preference, but it’s God’s plan.”
With her grades improving, Dawkins worked her way out of academic probation.
“I did summers on campus and I was always taking summer classes. It was a ‘chill version’ of college,” Dawkins said. “I was able to do my classes and those summers were beneficial for me academically.”
Dawkins said her freshman year was humbling for her. She competed in diving in the second semester that year, but only at home meets. She said she just wasn’t a strong enough athlete at the time.
She was also learning 3-meter diving, moving up from the 1-meter diving of high school. Dawkins worked with Branfield in the summer semester after her freshman year and gained confidence heading into her sophomore season.
“John Bransfield was so patient with me and understanding that I did a lot of the bigger stuff before the little stuff,” Dawkins said. “I had to learn those fundamentals to lean on when fatigue set in, and that repetition helped. I gained five or six skills in a couple of months going into sophomore year.”
Dawkins said she became more competitive after initially feeling inferior, as far as ability went, to her teammates.
“I wasn’t on par skill-wise,” Dawkins said. “But once I got those skills, I was more into it. I felt I was more of a part of a team.”
To fully get there, Dawkins had to get out of academic probation. She did so in the second semester of her junior year.
“It was tough,” Dawkins said. “I was getting better grades and turning things around, but once you get in a hole with your GPA, it’s hard to get out. It took a really long time, but I got there.”
Once academically eligible, Dawkins had her best year. She qualified for the NCAA Division I zone championships, the middle tier between the conference finals and the national championships. Dawkins secured a 41st place finish.
“My junior year was my peak,” she said. “I pulled my hamstring my first semester of my senior year and I had a hard time trusting my body after that.”
Bransfield said Dawkins became an integral part of the team as a junior.
“We shared a lot of laughs and tears,” Bransfield said. “Diving at the Division I level will humble you at times. At other times, you feel on top of the world. She handled the ups and downs.
“It took a while for her to adjust, but once she was comfortable she became a leader and fun to work with,” Branfield continued. “It was a hill and she conquered that hill.”
Dawkins said despite the challenges, she was happy she went to UConn.
“It was good to have my family near me because you are going to be down mentally and physically,” Dawkins said. “It’s good to know you have someone there to pick you up.”
Dawkins is the daughter of Kathleen and Todd Dawkins. She lives with her grandmother Josephine in Meriden.
“I care for her,” Dawkins said of her grandmother. “She would always reach out to me when I was at school and she was always there when I got home. She had (cataract) surgery and wasn’t able to see, so I would go over more and more, and eventually I moved in with her.”
Dawkins is now attending graduate school virtually at Emerson College for Speech Pathology.
“It’s a rigorous program and anyone that goes to grad school, I commend them,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins is also considering going into coaching. She said she would like to see more black women in diving.
“In my time diving in college, there were two or three female head coaches and none of them were black,” Dawkins said. “Representation is important. If I had a black female diver to look up to, maybe that would have changed my perspective.
“I would like to coach or even volunteer,” she added. “I want to give back and make everyone feel included. There’s a certain satisfaction in that.”
Bransfield said Dawkins would be a fabulous coach.
“One of her greatest attributes is her ability to relate to people,” Bransfield said. “She empathizes with people. I’ve never heard Kamrin talk negative about another person. That’s a rare quality for a kid.
“She would be a great leader and would listen and understand what people are going through. She’s a gem.”
Dawkins was featured in a USA Diving article this month. In it, she discussed her thoughts on race in diving. It struck a chord with one young diver.
“Someone reached out to me and said, ‘I am so happy to have a black diver to look up to now,’ Dawkins recounted. “She told me she would get made fun of for competing in a ‘white sport.’ I understand why it’s perceived as a white sport, but as a person of color you can feel that way. People on the outside could say some things that make you feel that you don't belong.
“I’m not sure everyone understands what we go through,” Dawkins said.
“It’s your own perspective of reality and you can feel people get talked to differently than they talk to you. I feel if there needs to be more representation of black coaches.”
Dawkins said she never had any comments directed toward her about her race, but there is a sensitivity all the same.
“On the board, surrounded by no one else of color, it’s a feeling of belonging,” Dawkins said. “I go into school rooms, classrooms and meets, and many times I’m the only black person, woman or black woman. It’s a different vibe and energy. I don't know if white people feel differently. It’s just a feeling, being in a predominately white sport. That feeling is always present.”
Kim Curry, an academic counselor at UConn, was briefly Dawkins’ advisor at the school and was there for her during the toughest times.
“She’s also a woman of color and I kept seeing her even when she wasn’t my advisor anymore,” Dawkins said. “I love that she always got answers for me. Sometimes my questions would be pushed aside by others, but Kim was authentic and wanted everyone to feel at home.”
Curry was instrumental in helping Dawkins get on track academically.
“She wrote my letter or recommendation for grad school and was my mom on campus,” Dawkins said.
“She came in when I was struggling academically. We had a conversation. She said we will get this right, and we did.”
Meriden Co-op coach Ed Heath said Dawkins was an inspiration for his athletes over the years.
“It’s a good eye-opener for the kids that it’s possible to go Division I if you work hard enough,” Heath said. “She’s an outstanding kid from and outstanding family.”
Dawkins owns the co-op’s diving record of 235.50 on six dives. In the Platt record books, Dawkins ranks behind only Nancy Burdick, who set the standard in 1978 with a 284.80.