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This article was published 2/8/2017 (752 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Eight months ago, Serena Buchwald rarely woke from a sleep, read a text or sat in a quiet classroom at Balmoral Hall without experiencing piercing, debilitating headaches.
She certainly wasn’t leaping from any high platforms at the Pan Am Pool.
In late 2016, Buchwald, one of the province’s top female divers, was down and out for almost three months with a serious concussion that occurred not from a mishap on the board or wonky entry into the water, but from the most benign of circumstances.
The 17-year-old Winnipegger knows the exact day it happened.
"The same day (Pittsburgh Penguins star) Sidney Crosby got his. We have that in common," she said Wednesday, following the female one-metre springboard preliminary round at the 2017 Canada Summer Games.
It was Friday, Oct. 7, to be exact, in the IKEA parking lot of all places. Leaning in to load something into her mom’s vehicle, Buchwald bumped her head on the trunk and felt a slight twinge – the kind of innocent jolt that happens to people all the time while getting in and out of vehicles or in a kitchen if a cupboard door has been inadvertently left open.
The wooziness set in almost immediately, she recalled.
"I was getting dizzy in the car and actually thought it was my mom’s driving. I know that sounds awful, but getting out of IKEA there’s a lot of turns," Buchwald said. "I came to practice (at Pan Am) after and I couldn't balance. I just laid down on the mat and didn’t want to move."
Diagnosed days later with a concussion, she missed school for weeks because of the symptoms and fell behind in her studies. Naturally, she stayed away from the pool as well.
"I couldn’t read. I couldn’t do homework. I’m in a heavy course load, I take a bunch of A.P (advanced placement) courses, so I was missing out on a lot," Buchwald said. "It was really hard not to come to diving practice for a really long time. I just felt so out of it, because of the headaches. With diving, too, it’s all balance. I was getting dizzy, so it’s hard to recover from that.
Though she qualified to compete for Manitoba at the Games earlier in 2016, she feared the effects of the concussion might sideline her for the once-in-a-lifetime event at home. She saw several doctors, and while the prognosis was always positive, the time frame of recovery varied each time she was assessed.
"I was worried, for sure. In that time when I was concussed, the doctors didn’t have a timeline. They just didn’t know. It’s different for everybody," she said. "I had no idea how long I’d be out. It was very stressful."
Her mother, Tracy Leipsic — who owns a Canada Games medal of her own, a bronze in speed skating that she won at the 1987 winter event in Cape Breton, N.S. — said it was emotionally draining to see her daughter struggling and frustrated.
"It’s hard as a parent to watch your kid not being able to do anything. It was tough on her mentally and physically. I was worried. I could see it affecting her," said Leipsic, who is the Games’ sport leader for diving this week. "She is such a good student and she was feeling the pressure of falling behind, and it put her months behind, easily (in diving)."
By November, Buchwald was cleared to rejoined her teammates at diving practice, but it was more for her psyche than anything else. Workouts consisted of the kind of exercises she performed when she was first introduced to the sport when she was 11.
"I started doing dryland and just some simple jumps off the side of the pool, anything to stay in shape," she said. "My coach, Dallas (Ludwick), was good about me taking it slow. She didn’t want me to push it."
Buchwald spent another month recovering before finally resuming a more intense training schedule, but she had some setbacks.
"It wasn’t that bad doing forward and backward rotations. It was the twisting and turning. Or, I’d hit the water but lose awareness of where I was. It’s a strange feeling because as a diver you rely on knowing where you are," said Buchwald, who was ninth during the 2016 junior elite nationals and also competed in the 2016 Canadian Olympic Trials.
"Sometimes, on the higher boards if I miss my hands, I don’t grab them right, that would really hurt my head, I’d get a huge headache and my ears would be ringing and then I’d sit out for a little bit."
By early January she was ready to start attacking her dives again — and preparing for the rest of the diving season.
This week, she competed in the three-metre and one-metre preliminary events but did not qualify for the finals. She still has the 10-metre platform event, her specialty, coming up Thursday.
"There were still a lot of nerves from the size of the Games and putting a lot of pressure on myself. because my dives had been feeling really good and I wanted to do them well in competition, Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen like that," Buchwald said.
"It’s definitely one of the biggest meets I’ve been in. It’s a big stage. I’m just so glad I was able to come back."
After five dives in the morning preliminary round, Buchwald's teammate, Alyssa Gauthier, came less than a point short of qualifying for the afternoon final.
Two other Manitobans, Mara George and Brooke Bouchard, had local fans at Pan Am fired up, nailing difficult, stylish vies to crack the top-12. George eventually finished ninth with a score of 236.95 points after five new tries, while Bouchard placed 11th with 201.05 points.
Elaena Nancy Dick of Ontario won gold with a score of 290.40, well ahead of runner-up Coral Strugnell of British Columbia (259.65). Ashley McCool of Alberta (258.20) earned the bronze medal.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).