COLUMBIA — Midway through the 3-meter dive finals of the SEC Championships last month, Missouri junior diver David Bonuchi blocked out all distractions.
The sea of parents, fans and fellow divers watching his every move didn’t matter.
The 17-point deficit separating him from first place didn’t matter.
Even the ruptured eardrum he suffered in warm-ups at the start of the week didn’t matter.
Calmly, Bonuchi stepped onto the diving board and executed one of the most difficult dives in his arsenal, a reverse two and a half with one and a half twists, to near perfection.
“It put me back in it,” Bonuchi said of the dive that earned him a score of nine out of 10 from the judge on Feb. 21.
Two dives later, Bonuchi became the 3-meter dive SEC Champion.
It was the second championship he had captured in three days. He had already won the 1-meter event Feb. 19.
“I’m not even sure that people realized David was competing with a ruptured eardrum the entire week,” Missouri diving coach Jamie Sweeney said. “He was in a lot of pain.”
Bonuchi suffered the injury while practicing 3-meter dives in warm-ups Feb. 18. His hand slipped off his leg when he tucked mid-dive, causing him to spin sideways. The side of Bonuchi’s head smacked against the water’s surface, tearing a hole in his right eardrum.
Bonuchi emerged from the water feeling dizzy. He met with Sweeney and athletic trainer Nick Antonelli to determine a plan for competing throughout the week with the ear injury.
Sitting out the SEC Championships was not an option. Bonuchi had traveled all the way to College Station, Texas, with one goal in mind – to sweep the SEC Championships, which meant winning the 1-meter, 3-meter, and 10-meter dives.
So Bonuchi decided to dive with the pain. A swimming cap would be the only thing separating water from leaking inside the hole in his right ear.
“I don’t know if a lot of other divers would be able to physically compete,” Sweeney said. “But David didn’t just compete. He was mentally tough enough to win.”
Despite the injury, Bonuchi found himself in the finals of the 10-meter dive with an SEC sweep within reach Feb. 23.
He dived well, but by his own standards average, and finished second to John Santieu of Auburn. A combination of fatigue after a long week of diving and the effects of the ruptured eardrum had finally caught up to him.
Though he narrowly missed becoming just the fourth diver in SEC history to sweep the championships, Bonuchi said he was satisfied with his performance.
And rightfully so. He was named the SEC Male Diver of the Year and earned the Commissioner’s Trophy as the top men’s point producer at the SEC Championships.
“Let’s just bank on pulling a sweep next year,” Bonuchi said.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.