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Press Release

Release Date: June 10, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Chickasaw, former Oklahoma diver living dream starring in Las Vegas production

LAS VEGAS — Plunging 60 feet from a platform into an aqua abyss, a Chickasaw athlete is simultaneously living her dreams and reaping the rewards of decades of sacrifice, hard work and dedication.

Kaylea Arnett, a decorated diver, is a performer in the prestigious Cirque du Soleil “O” production at the Bellagio.

The water-themed stage production features world-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters who perform in and above a 1.5 million gallon pool of water. The show’s name, “O,” is taken from the French word for water “eau.”

“In Cirque du Soleil, I am a high diver, diving off 60-foot towers (mounted) from the ceiling into the water. It is a big job, and it is one of the most prestigious shows in the world. I feel very lucky to be here,” Arnett said.

Luck, it seems, gets too much credit. Arnett has spent decades disregarding gravity and artfully contorting herself midair from diving platforms.

She began diving in 2001, dedicating about eight hours a day to training, initially near her home in Newcastle, Oklahoma, at the U.S. Diving Regional Training Center at Oklahoma City Community College. When the training center closed, the Arnett family moved to Spring, Texas, so she could continue her pursuit.

Perfecting her skills, Arnett garnered a slew of awards, including a diving scholarship to Virginia Tech.

As a 10-year-old, she was the youngest diver to qualify for the U.S. team and competed at the Junior Pan American Games in Brazil, earning a bronze medal.

Through the years, Arnett earned gold medals at the USA Diving National Championships as well as numerous other events. She also qualified for the 2012 Olympic diving trials.

At Virginia Tech, she was twice named Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Women’s Diver of the Year and earned ACC Most Valuable Diver Award three times.

She also earned a major in philosophy and a minor in Japanese.

As college graduation neared and thoughts of retiring from diving surfaced, panic set in.

“That was kind of a fork in the road moment for me in college. Everybody retires after school, goes on to real life, and I didn’t want any part of that. I was not ready to let go of diving,” Arnett said.

Friends reminded her of the plethora of options available with entertainment companies, such as cruise lines, amusement parks and productions such as Cirque du Soleil, which solidified her resolve to keep diving.

She compiled a video reel and shared it far and wide.

An opportunity emerged with a Cirque du Soleil show in Macao, China, where she performed with the production for about five years.

“I was doing Russian swing (a device used to make high acrobatic jumps) and high dives. I was dancing on chandeliers, doing all kinds of bizarre things.”

Then the pandemic hit, shuttering entertainment venues and productions across the world.

About a year later, “O” called, offering an audition.

“The rest is history,” she said.

Performing in “O” is a full-circle moment for Arnett.

“When I was very little, my coach used to show us videos of ‘O,’” she said, adding he would also bring elaborate costumes he found at Goodwill to practice and challenge his students to dive through fog while wearing them.

“I think he was secretly prepping me for this,” she laughed.

Arnett loves her job and the creativity it inspires.

“Cirque du Soleil allows for more artistry. Diving is very technical and score-based. Being able to turn it into an art, it’s a great experience. I’m trying new dives that aren’t even on the book and the audience is loving it.

“When I do dives I can hear them screaming, and I’m like, ‘OK, they like that dive, I’m going to keep that dive.’ Being able to try new and fun things is outstanding.”

Audience engagement is one of her favorite parts of performing.

“When I am not diving, I am doing side cues, such as little small characters. I often find times to connect with the audience during these moments,” Arnett said. “You can see the eyes, especially of the kids. You can see the amazement. I hope that I’m making a big difference in these kids’ lives, or anybody that’s watching the show.”

Although a seasoned pro, she admits to occasionally feeling anxious while waiting for her cue on the towering platform, but once she takes the first step, her training takes over.

“There is always fear,” she laughed, holding up an index finger to emphasize the point.

“It’s just a matter of harnessing it.

“I have 20 years of experience, so I kind of know how to fly through the air, but the worst part is standing up there. That’s when all the doubts creep in. You’re thinking, ‘Oh no, what if I forget how to dive,’ and as soon as you leave the platform, you know what to do. Your body knows what to do. You have to have full trust in yourself, even though there is fear.”

Overcoming fears and forging ahead are two traits Arnett learned from decades of training and her late Chickasaw mother, Terrie, who died two years ago following a courageous battle with cancer.

“I just want to give a huge thanks to the Chickasaw Nation and my Chickasaw family, because they helped us out a lot during those cancer treatments. It was obviously very hard, but they helped us a lot.”

Just Keep Going

Her mother’s legacy of never giving up on dreams is ingrained in Arnett’s life.

“The biggest thing I learned from my mom is that time doesn’t stop. No matter what happens to you, you have to get up and keep going. I’ve always used that. It’s been the biggest life lesson she ever taught me. You just got to keep going, laugh, no matter what adversities come, just keep getting up.’”

Adversity in life, and in diving, is a constant, she said.

“There’s always going to be a struggle, walls you’re going to hit, holes you fall into, but it’s up to you to find your way out of these holes. To find your way around these adversities, to keep pushing forward, because if it is something that you love, and if it’s something that you feel like you need, then you have to keep going.

“Even in the darkest times, even in the hardest times, you have to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. There will be the rewards for all the sacrifices that you’ve made.”

Arnett recognizes her entire family contributed to her success.

“There were a lot of sacrifices along the way. I was (always) training my whole life. It feels like now, I’m reaping what I’ve sown, finally.

 “There were times I wanted to quit, for sure. But pushing through those hard times really makes it worth it now, because this is amazing and I wouldn’t have chosen any other path,” she said.

Cirque du Soleil “O” is presented twice a day, five days a week, or 10 shows a week. The performance has about 70 artists and 60-70 technicians.

For more information, visit CirqueduSoleil.com/O.