Kassidy Cook Returns as USA Diving Champion After Devastating Injuries, Retirement

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Kassidy Cook at 2018 NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

Kassidy Cook simply needed a break. Her body was in pain — a lot of pain. After several serious injuries, the 2016 Olympic diver stepped away from the sport she loved after her senior year at Stanford in 2018. She was in so much pain, she didn’t really love it anymore and retired.

Cook thought that retirement might last forever.

It didn’t.

Despite her injuries, Cook decided to make a comeback after more than a year away at USA Winter Nationals in December 2019.

“After I graduated college, I kind of felt like I needed to take a break, potentially for good,” Kassidy Cook told Swimming World. “At the time, I had been through so many injuries, physical and mental issues since the 2016 Olympics. I wanted to start interviewing for jobs. In the back of my mind, I didn’t think it would be for good, but I had a job and a life.

“But after a year out of the water, my body started feeling better. I was getting restless watching competitions.”

The biggest thing was finding out if her body could take the daily grind again.

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Kassidy Cook in her last year at Stanford. Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

“I felt like if I was healthy, I could be back on top. I thought I would really regret this if I didn’t give it a shot,” she said. “So I quit my job (technical recruiting in San Francisco) and I moved back to Texas.”

She finished recovering from the latest in a long line of injuries. Cook tore her labrum three times, with each requiring surgery. She suffered from bulging discs in her back during her senior year at Stanford, but still managed to earn All-American honors and help the Cardinal win the NCAA title.

But her injuries weren’t over then.

“My body was telling me this was coming to an end,” Cook said. “Last May, I had a foot surgery to take out some screws. The year before I had a major surgery on my foot to put screws in. I tore a bunch of ligaments and broke some metatarsels on a trampoline. It was a pretty bad injury. It is not common and does not have a high rate of recovery. I had to limp for eight months after that. Not good for a sport with a bare foot.

“I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to dive again.”

Kassidy Cook: The comeback

Barely able to walk for months, somehow Cook made a remarkable comeback.

“I always kept up with physical therapy and working out. Physical fitness has always been a big part of my life,” she said. “I wanted to be healthy and taking care of my body, even if it wasn’t as an athlete. That is what helped me get better and defy the doctor’s beliefs.”

Things improved even faster than Cook even believed was possible. It got her thinking she could dive again. It was time to at least give it a try.

Cook’s first meet back was USA Diving Winter Nationals in December 2019. After a year-and-a-half away from the sport, she won gold on 3-meter and teamed with Sarah Bacon to win gold in the 3-meter synchro event.

“I was happy to walk away with a gold individually and with my partner Sarah Bacon,” she said. “It was actually pretty natural. Things just came together really naturally. When I was thinking of coming back, I texted her and wanted to try synchro with her. We had a camp in October and it worked out. They paired us together. We didn’t have time, but we had similar body types and it just worked out.”

It gave Cook peace of mind about her comeback.

“I think for me, it was validation that I made the right decision in coming back to diving. It felt like it was the path I was supposed to be on. If I didn’t feel like that, I wouldn’t have had the success I had with only three months of training,” she said. “It felt really good.”

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Kassidy Cook and Sarah Bacon. Photo Courtesy: Kassidy Cook

Growing from Rio

After such a stunning performance, Cook was ready for the next step of trying to make her second Olympic team.

Cook is in a much different place than when she made the team in 2016 and finished 13th on 3-meter, or even when she barely missed the London Games in 2012.

“Rio shaped me a lot. At the time, I was 20 and I have matured a lot as an athlete and a person. I am able to handle pressure better. It was a great stepping-stone for me. I realized the changes I needed to make to compete at that level,” she said. “I struggled with the post-Olympic depression. I had weight gain, an unhealthy relationship with food, being disappointed with my performance. I tried to move on, but I was not happy with diving and didn’t have that love for diving anymore. I was in denial, but eventually I got some help. That helped me mature and it helped me realize it is OK to ask for help.

“We are not super heroes. We are athletes, and go through the same struggles. It is almost like you feel ashamed because of how people think of you as an Olympian. You feel the pressure to put that show on. That is starting to open up in sports, talking about mental health. That stigma is starting to be broken, but I definitely felt it.”

But after fighting through her mental struggles after Rio, her fights switched to physical struggle with her line of injuries.

Now, her fight is finally just about what she does on the board. Given her short time back on the boards, Cook was ready for 2020, but the postponement to 2021 because of the coronavirus will allow her more time to work on her craft.

“I was pretty happy about that considering everything going on in the world right now. Most people are without training facilities and we don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said. “The unknown was harder than dealing with the postponement.”

Core focus

While Cook has more time to prepare for 2021, she can’t do anything on the boards since public and private pools have been closed because of health mandates.

Never one to sit around and do nothing, Cook is focused on what she can do to keep active and prepare her body.

“My club team has been sending daily workouts and videos. So I will continue to do that and be more creative in my workouts. A lot of the core work and leg strength is something you can do without a diving board,” she said. “Most of my workouts, you want to translate it into yours ports so I do planks, pike-ups, tuck-ups, anything that has a functional move for diving. Having a strong core is an important part of diving.”

She wants to make sure she follows the health guidelines and helps her community bounce back from the pandemic.

“The No. 1 goal is to stay healthy and help the world heal from this pandemic. That is more important than any kind of glory you can get at the Olympics,” Cook said. “My goal will be the same as always. To work hard and perform. I have been injured and retired so that won’t be too bad. I am going to do everything I can to secure my spot on the Olympic team. I think I speak for everyone that it is a hard time getting through this time mentally, worrying about people.”

Kassidy Cook: Road to Tokyo

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Kassidy Cook while at Stanford. Photo Courtesy: Casey Valentine/isiphotos.com

Eventually, the main focus will be back on making the Olympic team.

Cook has proved she is still one of the world’s elite divers, and is finally healthy and loving the sport again.

“I am having so much fun and the love of the sport is motivating me. I am starting to take that outside pressures and put that on the side. At 24, I can finally focus on my own dives,” she said. “I have already been to the Olympics, but for me, I want to compete and have fun, taking advantage of these years. I feel like I Have become a better diver dealing with those things.”

An added bonus is the success she has enjoyed with Bacon in just a short time.

“Doing synchro has been great. It makes it more of a team sport and has added so much more joy. That has helped me become a better diver. We genuinely enjoy competing with one another,” Kassidy Cook said. “We have competed three times and won all three competitions. Our chemistry has really been able to shine through.”

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2 comments

  1. Debbi Ann

    Jennifer Welsh Summe, isn’t this your niece? So exciting!

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