Missouri diver fights through injuries to keep competing

Friday, February 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:25 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 16, 2013
Missouri diver Loren Figueroa is battling knee, shoulder and foot injuries on her way to the SEC Championships.

COLUMBIA — One year ago at the Big 12 Championships, Loren Figueroa looked on as other divers competed in the 1-meter event Figueroa knew she would have won if not for a knee injury.

After all, Figueroa, an All-American on the Missouri swimming and diving team, had already won the event as a freshman.

"I was really hoping to go in and win nationals that year, but I didn’t even get to compete," she said. 

This year, after taking a redshirt season, Figueroa enters Monday's SEC Championships with the lingering effects of that nagging left knee injury, along with injuries to her right shoulder and left foot.

Her expectations haven't waned despite the trio of injuries. 

"I really would like to claim my first SEC title," she said.  "I expect to go in and win the 1-meter."

Figueroa's left knee problems began at the 2011 zone championships, where she hyper-extended the knee after her heel collided with the edge of the diving board.   

Although she tore the cartilage surrounding her meniscus, Figueroa chose to compete in the 2011 National Championships. 

Then a freshman, Figueroa earned All-America honors for her second-place finish in the 1-meter competition.

“The adrenaline kind of helped me,” she said. “I wasn’t even worried about my knee.”

A month later, Figueroa’s knee locked up while working on homework. She couldn’t straighten it. A pair of surgeries to repair the cartilage sidelined Figueroa for her entire sophomore year. 

She attended rehab sessions twice a day to strengthen her knee, each of which would last up to 90 minutes, according to Tigers athletic trainer Nick Antonelli.

But shortly after she fully recuperated from her knee injury, more injuries followed.

Figueroa started feeling pain in her right shoulder. Her labrum was partially torn.

Weeks later, Figueroa began experiencing pain on the ball of her left foot. Doctors misdiagnosed the injury as turf toe before x-rays revealed her sesamoid bone was fractured into three pieces. 

Surgery to repair the bone would’ve made Figueroa a spectator for the second straight year.

“The only way they can fix it is if I get surgery and get it removed,” she said.  “I didn’t want to do that.”

Instead, Figueroa relies on a myriad of rehab exercises and non-surgical remedies that allow her to compete.

She walks around in orthotics specially fitted for her shoes during the day and sleeps in a splint designed to stretch her foot at night. 

To fight her lingering knee and shoulder injuries, Figueroa primarily does a type of training that uses slow exercises to promote rapid muscle repair, according to Antonelli.

“I have to go every single day or else my body couldn’t keep up with diving anymore,” Figueroa said.

And despite the trio of injuries, Figueroa’s performance hasn’t been affected.

She has won the SEC Female Diver of the Week award a league-leading three times, and remains undefeated in the 1-meter event this season.

Once the diving season concludes, Figueroa said she has no plans to undergo surgery.  She will deal with foot, knee, and shoulder injuries for the rest of her diving career. 

To Figueroa, the physical pain she experiences diving is a small price to pay. 

"Diving has always been one of those things for me where it's not so much a sport, it's a lifestyle," she said. "I couldn't go without it."

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