Cyclone Divers Take the Road to Recovery
AMES, Iowa – With three top-three finishes against TCU last Friday, the Iowa State diving team is starting to hit its stride. Preparing for a season of Big 12 competition is a tall order alone, but two divers on the Cyclone roster have had more than just that on their minds. Senior Jessica Henderson and sophomore Elyse Brouillette have been battling injuries since early on last season.
Henderson, the lone senior diver on the team, was sidelined for the remainder of her junior year after sustaining a concussion during a 10-meter platform practice last fall. When Henderson attempted to return to the team, her headaches became so intense that she was forced to pull herself out of class for the spring 2013 semester just three weeks into the year.
Returning ISU most valuable diver Elyse Brouillette began experiencing pain in her left shoulder after returning from winter break last year. With the aid of physical therapy, Brouillette was able to make it through the rest of the season; however, it wouldn’t be enough to get her back on the boards for the 2013-14 season.
Henderson’s Road to Recovery
During a routine Saturday practice in Iowa City last fall, Henderson attempted a front full, two and a half summersaults with a full twist, from the 10-meter platform. Upon entry, Henderson over rotated causing her knee to collide into her head with great force.
Slightly shaken up by the incident, Henderson left the pool not even realizing that she had been injured. It was not until the following Mondaywhen she returned to practice in Ames when Henderson felt that something was not right. Team trainers evaluated the diver and concluded that she had a concussion.
Prescribed rest and time off from diving, Henderson attempted to return to the boards during the team’s annual winter break training trip just a few weeks after sustaining the injury. Henderson began to experience chronic headaches induced by the training program quickly after her return. She was once again bench ridden as a result.
Following her second leave of absence from the team, Henderson’s headaches began to intensify. Now three weeks into the spring semester, Henderson was forced to remove herself from the classroom for the remainder of the spring semester. At this point, she wondered if the side effects of her concussion would ever end.
With the rest of the spring semester devoted to recovery, Henderson was finally able to make her long awaited return during the team’s summer training. According to Henderson, her experience carried her through her return to the boards.
“Things went pretty well in summer training,” Henderson said. “All of the work that I have put in over the past three years was still there. That was comforting.”
After eight months of slow and painful recovery, Henderson was hit with yet another injury at the start of the 2013-14 season. Henderson was hampered early on by a strained quadriceps muscle, an injury that developed over a period of time, according to the diver.
Again, Henderson attempted to battle through the injury, causing her to collapse on the board in Brookings, S.D. during the South Dakota State meet.
“It’s frustrating because I can get through the pain, but my leg gave out,” Henderson said.
Brouillette’s Return from Surgery
Midway through the 2012-13 season, then freshman Elyse Brouillette began to experience a slight pain in her left shoulder as she was executing dives. Without much concern, Brouillette continued to train and compete through the pain that she felt.
By late winter of 2013, Brouillette’s injury became more severe as she began to lose range of motion in her left arm. After seeking help from team trainers, Brouillette continued to prepare for the Big 12 Championships.
“It started to bug me back in January or February. I did physical theory, rested, and trained as much as I could,” Brouillette said. “I kind of limped my way through the rest of the season.”
Following her freshman year, Brouillette sought further medical attention regarding the pain she had been in for several weeks. Prescribed nothing more than time away from the pool and rest, Brouillette returned for Iowa State’s summer training program only to find herself in the training room again as the pain came back.
Then came the bad news for the 2012-13 Iowa State most valuable diver of the year: she would have to undergo surgery to correct an impingement in her left shoulder. With the operation scheduled for July 19, Brouillette had just over two months to prepare for the opening meet.
Given three to four weeks of recovery time, Brouillette feared that she would not be prepared for competition. In addition to the physical setbacks that she had to battle through, Brouillette was dealing with nerves during the first dual meet competition in Lincoln, Neb.
“Coming back to practice and watching the other girls, I thought that I was missing out on training and that I wouldn’t be prepared for meet season,” Brouillette explained. “It was really hard.”
Returning Stronger than Before
While there can rarely be a silver lining in the injury of an athlete, Henderson and Brouillette agreed that their time away from the sport did help make them better divers. With a limited number of reps for both athletes in training and in practice, they were forced to focus on their mental toughness, performing each dive in their heads over and over again.
“You get more of an opportunity to work on the mental side of diving,” Henderson said. “Going through your dives mentally and visually, picturing yourself doing it perfectly every time, it really does work.”
Head diving coach Jeff Warrick applauds his team’s determination and toughness throughout this difficult stretch. In addition to their improved mental game, Warrick feels that his top performers have recaptured the “fire” after being forced out of the sport for extended periods of time.
“They are very tough. Even though they get frustrated because it is hard to be patient, they persevered and have done a great job coming back,” Warrick said. “I think the one positive is when something is taken away from you, it means that much more when you get it back.”