Courtney Kinney, post staff reporter
Becky Ruehl simply does not waste time.
She takes no breathers between dives. She just dries off,
climbs the ladder and dives again.
''Slow down!'' pleads coach Charlie Casuto after an uncharacteristically
bad dive at practice.
But Miss Ruehl, who finished one place short of winning a
medal when she dove in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta,
doesn't have time to waste if she's going to be in shape for
the Olympic trials in Seattle in June.
She nods at her coach and less than a minute later is taking
off for her next dive.
This time, it's perfect.
Miss Ruehl, 21, is on her way back up after two major injuries
sidelined her for the better part of two years.
A five-time Kentucky state high school champion for Villa
Madonna Academy, she was fourth on the 10-meter diving platform
at the 1996 Olympics and boasts four national championships.
But shoulder surgery in 1997 and a damaged nerve a year later
slowed her down.
She's only been diving again for three months and didn't
get back on the 10-meter platform, her specialty, until Sept.
Miss Ruehl is a fifth-year senior at the University of Cincinnati
and in her last year of NCAA eligibility. She already has
qualified for the Olympic trials because she competed in the
This is the last time she'll try for the Olympics, she said.
After such a long time away from her sport, the diver who
has been described by her coach as ''not afraid of anything''
is a little scared to be diving again from a platform three
stories off the water.
''But only enough to make me pay attention,'' Miss Ruehl
''I'm just so happy to be back up there,'' she added. ''That's
the one I love the most.''
It's also the one that hurts her arm the most, Casuto said.
From the 10-meter platform, a diver hits the water at 33
mph. The arms absorb all the impact.
But Miss Ruehl said that her shoulder has felt fine so far
and that the injuries have not affected her dives technically.
She still has a strong toe-point; still displays good diving
form and makes very little splash.
The only physical reminder of her injuries is a 3-inch-long
surgical scar on her right shoulder. Casuto said she's fine
as long as her shoulder holds out.
Miss Ruehl expects to be able to compete at UC's first meet
When she first started diving with the Cincinnati Stingrays,
a local club team, Miss Ruehl was a 7-year-old gymnast from
She walked into Casuto's pool for her first practice, Cabbage
Patch doll under her arm, and refused to get into the water.
Once she did, she says, she wasn't any good.
Casuto called her ''spaghetti legs'' because she couldn't
keep them together.
But she stuck with it, and, by the time she entered high
school at Villa Madonna, she had won her first state championship.
Casuto realized she had a shot at the Olympics when she was
14 and competing in her first Senior Nationals. Miss Ruehl
said making the Olympics was her goal, but not her reason
No one thought, though, that it would happen in 1996.
Miss Ruehl, then 18, didn't let the pressure of being at
the Olympics get to her. She was just nervous enough to make
Diving there, she said, was just like practice, except that
she had to wait 30 minutes between dives.
Miss Ruehl - who has an insatiable appetite for books - read
Jane Austen's ''Persuasion'' during the meet while others
dove, practiced or fretted. Reading helps to take her mind
off her next dive.
Miss Ruehl nailed all five dives in Atlanta but was knocked
out of medal contention by her teammate, Mary Ellen Clark,
then 33, who won the bronze.
It didn't bother Miss Ruehl, though. She said she was glad
her teammate got the medal because it was Ms. Clark's last
And, she pointed out, her own goal had been to make the finals,
and she had already done that.
Casuto said he was impressed with how Miss Ruehl, who was
just out of her freshman year at UC, handled herself at the
''She enjoyed herself there,'' Casuto said. ''She didn't
feel like the weight of the world was on her shoulders; she
didn't cry when she did something wrong.''
Miss Ruehl performed her best dives ever in front of the
15,000 fans, including 70 friends and relatives, at the Georgia
Tech Aquatic Center.
But it was being at the Olympics, representing her country,
that impressed her most, she said.
A year after the games, Miss Ruehl suffered a torn labrum
- a tissue-like band in the shoulder socket - in her right
The injury eventually required surgery and kept her out of
the water for seven months.
Then, after a year back in the water, she suffered damage
to a branch of her radial nerve, numbing her arm near her
The damage made it almost impossible to keep that arm above
her head when entering the water. The arm would collapse,
pulling on her shoulder and aggravating the just-healed injury
Miss Ruehl was out for seven more months and wasn't sure
if she could ever return to diving.
''I thought about quitting, but only because the reality
of it was forced in my face, not because I didn't want to
dive anymore,'' she said.
Not being able to dive made her, as she put it, ''difficult
to be around sometimes.''
But, if she was unhappy, she never showed it at the pool,
Casuto said. Rather, she went to work.
Weight training and extensive physical therapy have strengthened
her arm enough that it doesn't collapse now, he said. The
numbness is still there, but doctors have assured her it isn't
Miss Ruehl has a rapid-fire diving style - she doesn't rest
between dives and spends no time deliberating at the end of
''She's very fast,'' Casuto said. ''In fact, if you blink,
you miss her.''
But Miss Ruehl's comeback was slow.
Her arm gets tired easily, and she can't do as many dives
as she used to when she's practicing.
Though she and Casuto had planned to work on some harder
dives, they have decided instead to focus on perfecting three
dives: an armstand somersault, an inward one-and-a-half somersault
and a back two-and-a-half twister - her best dive, Casuto
Clare Ruehl, a nurse, credits her daughter's positive outlook
to Casuto, who also has been a friend and mentor to Miss Ruehl.
''It was never about the end result. It was always about
the process,'' Mrs. Ruehl said of Casuto's approach to coaching.
Casuto, 52, has been coaching for 32 years. A former UC diver
himself, he stresses grades above everything else and encourages
his divers to have a life outside of diving.
He doesn't have a hidebound philosophy of coaching; he tailors
his style to meet the needs of each diver.
When Miss Ruehl was in the Olympics, Casuto flew from Cincinnati
to Atlanta and back a few times a week to coach her and the
''Becky's relationship with Charlie goes much deeper than
just a coach,'' Mrs. Ruehl said.
''He's been there through a lot with her.''
Their friendship, she said, is forever.
On her right hand, Miss Ruehl wears a gold Olympic ring,
a gift from U.S. Diving. She never takes it off. Casuto wears
Right now, Miss Ruehl is focused more on the short-term goals
she and Casuto have set than on making the 2000 Olympic team.
''It's definitely a goal, but it's a remote goal,'' she said.
''It would be great to go back, but it doesn't factor into
my daily training.''
In the last year of a graphic design co-op, Miss Ruehl looks
forward to graduating and getting a job.
If the Olympics don't work out for her, she'll have other
things to do.
For now, she's just enjoying being back in the water.
Mrs. Ruehl said she loves to have her daughter telephone
and say what a good diving practice she's had.
''To hear the joy in her voice - that's the best.
''It's like the Olympics all over again.'' Publication date: