ELWOOD — Things are looking up for Mary Beth Dunnichay.
Her comeback might not reach the heights of the 10-meter platform — the stage upon which the 2008 Olympian made her name internationally — before the end of the year, but Elwood’s 2011 state diving champion said her surgically-repaired shoulder is feeling better than it has in years.
“The progress is pretty slow, but I’m doing really good,” Dunnichay said during a recent phone interview. “I’m glad I got (the surgery) done early and out of the way.”
The 20-year-old underwent her third shoulder surgery in March to reduce pain and provide better range of motion in the joint.
During her redshirt freshman season at Purdue last winter, Dunnichay was restricted to the 1-meter board. Even at that height, the pain in her shoulder was so intense it often drove her to tears.
But she kept diving throughout the dual meet schedule in order to score points for the Boilermakers. Once the Big Ten championships rolled around, and the focus shifted more toward individual competition, Dunnichay decided it was time for a heart-to-heart with diving coach Adam Soldati.
She held nothing back in an honest assessment of the pain she was experiencing.
“I just told him something’s gotta give,” Dunnichay said. “I was going to start losing my love for the sport because it hurt so bad.”
Dunnichay believed immediate surgery was the best solution, and she was relieved when Soldati agreed. The coach told her to do what she needed to get healthy and give Purdue three more solid seasons.
Though she’s limited to foot work now, Dunnichay believes she’ll be cleared for competition in August. But she’s going to ease back into things.
She’ll likely spend the NCAA season on the 1- or 3-meter board for the Boilers, avoiding the 10-meter platform and its additional toll on her body.
Dunnichay tried to dive through pain in 2011, and it ultimately cost her a chance to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London. And while Big Ten and NCAA titles remain a major goal, the end game has always been the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.
Not being a part of Team USA has been tough to digest. Because of her shoulder, Dunnichay hasn’t competed in international competition since the 2011 FINA World Championships.
She’s kept USA Diving appraised of her medical status, but it hasn’t made her absence any easier.
“I feel out of the loop because I haven’t competed internationally in awhile,” she said. “But I have to take care of myself before I get where I want to be.”
Medically, Dunnichay is getting there.
She said her shoulder is stronger and has better movement than it has in two years. She’ll do everything she can to score points for Purdue next season, but she’s not going to mortgage her long-term future.
“Having (diving) taken away from me, it’s really got me excited and anxious (to return),” she said. “It means a lot to me. I love to be up there doing 10-meter. But I don’t know if I’m going to be at that level this year because I’m being smart and trying to take it slow. In the end, (10-meter) is the goal. But who knows?”