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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Grado’s national championship aspirations nearly ended after shoulder injury

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Colin Prenger
Colin Prenger / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Ben Grado’s road to a national championship was a long one.

The senior diver didn’t place lower than third-place all season, swept the Pac-12 Championships and was named the Pac-12 Diver of the Month in November before becoming the first Arizona diver to ever win a national championship two weekends ago at the NCAA Championships in Federal Way, Wash.

All of that came just two years after suffering a potentially career-ending injury.

Grado began experiencing shoulder pain during his sophomore season, which doctors said was inflicted through wear and tear rather than a single event. Grado suffered a tear to his labrum along with an injury to his rotator cuff, injuries that required reconstructive shoulder surgery in 2010.

After the operation, Grado contemplated quitting diving and leaving the sport behind.

“I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to go on,” Grado said. “I didn’t know how it would feel after the surgery. I didn’t know whether I wanted to put myself through more strain or stress or put my shoulder through more possible injury after getting it already replaced.”

After heavy reflection and discussions with his former coach, Michelle Mitchell, Grado realized he had gone too far and put too much time into diving to just stop.

Grado was able to bounce back stronger than ever. After having a solid junior year, Grado was ready for a prolific senior year in which he became the first Arizona diver to sweep the Pac-12 Championships since current coach Omar Ojeda in 2008.

The Pac-12 Championships allowed Grado to gain confidence and become more familiar with the pool and the board — both necessary tools for Grado to win the national title.

Grado had only one thing on his mind during the final day of the championships, and it didn’t have to do with a team goal. Instead, Grado just focused on what he could personally control.

“Before, I think I was putting a little too much pressure on myself, knowing everyone wanted me to do well,” Grado said.

Grado said he took the last day and recognized it was the last time he’d step on a diving board at Arizona. He’d been on a diving board and in a pool thousands of times before, so Grado knew where to look for an extra boost on the last day of the championships.

“Now, being able to say, ‘I now have a national title under my belt,’” Grado said. “After everything I went through, it makes that experience that much better and its not the actual title that’s most memorable. Instead, knowing that I have been through three years of doubts beyond belief and being at the lowest part just a couple years ago.”

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