(CNN) – When professional cliff diver Eleanor Smart got her foot tangled in a plastic bag after diving into the seemingly pristine waters around Greece, it hit home that something was wrong.
The American, who is taking part in the new season of Red Bull’s cliff diving series, has since devoted her time to cleaning up the world’s oceans, one beach at a time.
Alongside her partner and fellow diver Owen Weymouth, Smart founded ‘The Clean Cliffs Project’ — an initiative that looks to prevent plastic pollution and educate people in ways to maintain our natural surroundings.
Now, as she travels the world with her sport, she finds time to give back to the stunning places she feels so privileged to dive in.
“It was just one of those ‘what?’ moments,” she tells CNN Sport, recalling the time in Greece she realized something should be done.
“I came up and that really hit me hard because I think a lot of it is things you can’t necessarily see.
“If you don’t see it yourself, it can be very hard to get involved or to care, but I think the thing with the issue is that it really is everywhere.
“And it’s not that countries don’t care or they’re not trying to make a difference, but it just is a process that takes each individual person to put a little bit of themselves into helping the issue.”
The initiative started off as a simple beach cleaning activity but, buoyed by the positive response, Smart looked to develop the concept.
The project now has global ambassadors who help run expeditions with the shared purpose of cleaning the beaches they use to dive.
The initiative also has an education outreach program which hopes to raise awareness of plastic pollution around the world.
“If you’re not educated about something, then you can’t do anything about it,” Smart adds.
“We do get a lot of feedback or criticism of, you know, ‘Beach cleanups don’t do anything, the trash just comes back,’ and yes, that is true, but it’s the action of actually picking it up.
“People are involved in it, then they start to make that conscious awareness of, ‘Oh, I can be better in my daily life.’
“And you don’t need to be an all out environmentalist. There are those people and it’s their job and their message, but to make a difference, you don’t have to necessarily change 100% of your lifestyle.
“Even just changing 10% and then 12 and then 15 and then maybe 20, that is still more than doing nothing.”
Smart says she’s “excited” to yet again be among the athletes competing in her fifth season of the cliff diving series which kicks off in Boston, US on June 4.
The tour travels to some of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, but it’s a sport that didn’t initially excite Smart.
The American started diving regularly at the age of five, going on to compete for her college before moving to Barcelona for a fashion internship.
It wasn’t until a friend of hers invited her to jump off a cliff that she really saw the appeal.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go get muddy and dirty but for some reason, I was like: ‘Okay, fine, I’ll go with you, pick me up in the morning.’
“I went with her and I jumped off a cliff for the first time in my life and I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool.'”
From that point onwards, Smart didn’t look back and even helped set up the first specialist high diving training facility in the US.
She now wants the sport to one day feature in the Olympic Games and is hopeful that there is enough support for it to be included in Los Angeles 2028.
“I think the end goal for all of us as athletes is to see it become an Olympic sport because we train for it just like any other Olympic sport. We pour our heart and soul into training for this,” she says with a beaming smile, adding that she is in contact with the relevant governing bodies.
“It really is being pushed along in that direction and we’re starting to see more women and men involved in the sport and more countries being represented, which is key to getting into the Olympic Games.”
Making a positive impact
But until then, it’s all about using her platform for good — a growing trend among athletes with a social media presence.
“I coach diving as well and I have a lot of younger athletes and I want them to know your identity does not revolve around whether you win or lose,” she said.
“It’s great to win, but I think that as professional athletes, we really do have an influence on the younger generations or even our own peers.
“To show that there’s more than just winning and that there’s other things in life that are really important as well I think is extremely important.
“I would way rather be remembered for making a difference than for winning.