The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    (Not) making a splash

    For junior Blugold diver Kenny Ritt, the hardest part of executing a difficult dive is the time right before starting a dive and the fear generated from psyching himself out. But the rush of diving helps Ritt override his fear.

    “Diving is way more mental than anything. It’s an adrenaline rush . There’s so much that can go wrong, but when it doesn’t, it’s really rewarding.”

    After a successful high school diving career and promising start to collegiate diving, Ritt was taken out of commission after two meets last season due to a series of back injuries and an eventual broken back.

    After some time off, however, Ritt became determined to return to the board. Not only is Ritt back diving, but hopes to compete at conference.

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    The new kid

    Unlike many other collegiate divers, Ritt didn’t start diving until he was recruited out of his gym class freshman year in high school.

    Ritt was “screwing” around and showing off with his friends in gym class when the swim and dive coach scouted him for the team.

    “Back then it was run the end of the board and jump as far as you can . (The coach) said ‘Show me something cool’ and I was like ‘Um, OK,'” Ritt said. “I didn’t even know diving was an actual high school sport.”

    Ritt ended up on the dive team, despite the team not having an actual diving coach. Without any formal training, Ritt learned most of the diving mechanics from teammate on his high school team and now fellow Blugold diver senior Bryan Dykstra. The two self-coached divers used to watch old diving videos together and worked to replicate what they saw, giving each other feedback.

    “If I’d have to say, I’d say Bryan taught me (how to dive),” Ritt said.

    The self-teaching seemed to work for the inexperienced Ritt. He went on to place at state three years in high school, two of those without a coach.

    Sectionals his senior year in high school was a turning point for Ritt. During his last dive, a back one-and-a-half pike, Ritt hyper extended his back and slipped a disk.

    As soon as he did, Ritt knew something was wrong.

    “It was like getting kicked in the back,” he said.

    Ritt did see a chiropractor, but he didn’t think the injury was severe enough to lay him up, spending his summer doing heavy lifting at his job.

    “I worked through the pain and eventually got strong enough that it didn’t bother me as much,” he said.

    By the time the UW-Eau Claire 2006-07 swim and dive season began, Ritt felt his back was strong enough to compete and he made it successfully through the season until conference when his back gave out on the third dive of a set of 22. His trainers tried loosening his spasming back muscles to help him make it through the rest of the meet, but Ritt was in serious pain.

    “At that point I was just hating my life, pretty much. I was almost in tears at the end of the meet. I was having trouble standing, let alone diving,” he said, adding that all he could do was grit his teeth and push himself through the meet. “I was wondering if I was going to dive again.”

    The injury

    Ritt spent the summer strengthening his abs and back and decided to go out for another diving season his sophomore year. Ritt said his back felt good for the first few practices, but eventually his pain returned. During one practice early in the season Ritt was trying to execute a new dive, a two-and-one-half tuck off the three meter board; a blind dive where the diver can’t see the water before entry.

    Despite the fact that Ritt had been warming up for the dive, he was particularly nervous.

    “I was standing on the board for like, 10 minutes, just freaking out,” he said.

    Ritt tried the dive a number of times but couldn’t nail the rotation. On his final attempt, Ritt kicked out of the dive too early, arched his back and landed flat on his back against the water.

    “It’s like your back is on fire and you freeze for a second. . (Hitting the water like that) hurts so bad you can’t even react for a second,” he said.

    After seeing Ritt hit the water, Dykstra jumped in the pool to pull Ritt out, thinking he had been knocked out. Ritt knew he had hurt himself on the dive, but didn’t know how badly until a few days later his legs went numb walking up the hill.

    His trainers thought he had pinched a nerve, dry decking Ritt for the rest of the season. Ritt went in to see a doctor for X-Rays and the films showed Ritt had more than a pinched nerve – his slipped disk had ruptured and he had a pressure fracture in a vertebrae. Ritt was stunned by the news.

    “I was thinking to myself . ‘I’m 19 years old and I have the back of a 60-year-old.’ It really weighed down on me, I was thinking ‘what am I going to be like when I’m 60?'” Ritt said. “I still think about it.”

    Making a comeback

    After his injury, Ritt tried to stay involved with the team, going to meets and helping out with practices, but eventually watching everyone dive was too much and he tried to distance himself from the sport.

    “I wanted to dive so bad when I saw them dive. It hurt . it was like salt in the wound,” he said.

    But Ritt found he couldn’t stay away from the sport.

    “I don’t know how many times I caught myself watching YouTube videos of old dives,” he said, smiling.

    The time away from diving motivated Ritt to get back into shape and back on the board. Ritt spent last summer strengthening his abs and back, doing everything he felt he could without straining his back.

    “It wasn’t Rocky montage or anything,” Ritt said, “but I did what I could.”

    After Ritt left for the season, Dykstra noticed a change in his longtime friend, noting Ritt’s motivation to get back into the sport.

    “I think it was a big realization that he needed to do more maintenance on his body,” Dykstra said.

    Now as a junior, Ritt is back diving this season.

    “I’m more afraid than I ever have been . I’m so afraid to arch my back,” he said, adding while he is still reluctant to try harder dives, the swimming and diving season is long and he is confident he can improve enough to place well at conference.

    Dykstra, who has been around Ritt for the entirety of his diving career, thinks Ritt’s goal to place at conference is realistic.

    “If he didn’t have a hurt back, he could go to nationals,” Dykstra said. “He’s coming along a lot faster . he’s making improvements everyday.”

    Dykstra said he is glad to have Ritt back on the team, not only because Ritt is a solid diver, but also because he adds something to the team dynamic.

    “He’s more of a leader than a follower, but he doesn’t over do it,” Dykstra said. “He’s always really encouraging and helpful.”

    Ritt is realistic about his current ability level, saying he had to lower the expectations he set for himself, but is simply happy to be back on the team.

    “I’m not getting the same scores I did my freshman year. Yet,” he said with a smirk. “I still want to go to nationals but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t go. I just want to be up on the podium (at conference) with Bryan.”

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