While the sport of cliff diving can be one of the most amazing and beautiful things to behold, it can also be perilous and unforgiving for those brave athletes who dare to take part. Launching themselves from heights of up to 27 metres, twisting and folding their bodies beyond belief during a 3-second freefall, before making impact with the water at speeds reaching 80km/h, means that these divers open themselves up to the possibility of injury with every leap they take. One man who can testify to this fact is American athlete, David Colturi, who following two injury plagued seasons and surgery at the end of 2016, is now on the comeback trail and preparing for a successful 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Colturi's injury problems began back in July 2015 during a training session, when he missed his hands on a head first dive from 10m.
"The water forced my right arm down in front of me and far behind my back as I felt something tear in my shoulder," recalls the 27-year-old. "It wasn't until late in the season I found with an MRI I had a small tear in my supraspinatus tendon."
Colturi, the youngest ever winner of a World Series event, battled on through the remainder of the season, opting to try and heal the tear conservatively with platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell injections combined with rehab and physical therapy, but further misery was to follow during his preparations for the 2016 season. This time he reinjured the same tendon, along with his labrum and biceps tendon, during a feet-first entry from 22m.
After struggling through the first half of a gruelling nine-stop tour in 2016, Colturi took the tough decision to end his season early and undergo surgery, meaning he would miss the final two events in Japan and Dubai. His farewell came in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina, where he finished with a final flourish and grabbed his first podium finish of the year with third place.
In early October the Los Angeles resident travelled to Vail, Colorado, where he underwent surgery for a supraspinatus repair, biceps tenodesis, and labral repair.
"I was certainly nervous going into it," explains Colturi. "It was my first time going under anesthesia for a serious surgery, and my whole career was on the line and in the hands of another person. Thankfully Dr. Hackett is a world-renowned shoulder surgeon, and he and his whole team were confident going in, and took the best possible care of me."
Following a successful surgery, the long and very delicate recovery process began.
"I was in a sling for about a month, and my first exercises were simply bending over and letting my arm swing back and forth like a pendulum in the shower. After slowly gaining mobility I started with simple weight bearing exercises and increased range of motion. I didn't do my first dives until about 4 months post surgery."
Six months on from going under the knife, things are now looking very promising for the former US National 10m Champion, as he enters the final stages of recovery ahead of the new season.
"The shoulder is about 85% now," says the American, "I'm starting to flip and twist again, and getting a few dives off the 10m and 12m platform, but the endurance and strength still aren't quite matching my left shoulder. It's turning the final corner, and sticking to the plan will definitely get me there.
"I'm with my physiotherapists 3-4 days a week now, with some serious training sessions in the gym to get strength, endurance, and explosiveness back, but I'm also trying to shift more time in the pool and get longer workouts in the water with more dives each week. The upcoming FINA World Cup will be a good test from higher heights where I'm hoping to get some practice time in, and I'm definitely confident I'll be ready for the start of the World Series in June."
It's been a long and gruelling journey for the former medical student, and one which he says wouldn't have been possible without the help of his physiotherapists, the support of family and friends and a healthy dose of personal motivation and positive thinking.
Now, with just two months to go before the start of the 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, will the 'twist master' stick and play it safe, easing himself back into action, or will he twist and go all in for glory?
"When I'm back to 100% I know I can consistently compete with the elite in our sport," says a confident Colturi. "I was at the top of my game right before the injury, and was still competitive throughout it. My goal for the 2017 season is to be on the podium consistently and in contention for the title come October."
Watch out Hunt, Paredes and Co, it looks like the World Series' "Sunny Boy" is ready to shine this summer.