Campus News

Injury, Recovery, Resilience: UK Grad Finds Peace in Season Cut Short

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UK Diver Emma Dellmore
Emma Dellmore competing against Cincinnati in her first collegiate meet.
Emma Dellmore in wheelchair
Emma Dellmore and teammates

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 6, 2020) — No collegiate athlete expects their senior season to be cut short. Not by an injury, and definitely not by a global pandemic. University of Kentucky College of Public Health 2020 graduate Emma Dellmore was hit with both.

On Dec. 13, 2018, Dellmore was ready for a quick dive practice. She wasn’t getting in the water, just working with her coach. While practicing, she landed on the concrete, and badly injured herself. She was immediately taken to the hospital, where she was treated by UK HealthCare Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine specialist Kim Kaiser. Dr. Kaiser was also the team doctor for UK Swimming and Diving, and she knew Dellmore well.

Dellmore had traumatic bilateral nondisplaced calcaneal fractures. In short, she had broken both of her heels and would not be able to compete for six months or longer.

Even as Dellmore was leaving the hospital after receiving bad news, she was still focused on her schoolwork. She asked her teammate to wheel her to the College of Public Health Building, so she could take a final exam.

“I had already studied the night before, I think it was environmental health,” said Dellmore. “I wanted to do well on the exam, and there was no way I was going to miss it.”

Dellmore came to UK all the way from Texas for one reason – to be a diver. Losing out on a big portion of her diving career because of her injury was not ideal. She said the only thing that really helped her through it was her teammates.

“It was so comforting to know that no matter what I was going through my teammates and coach would always be there,” said Dellmore.

Even with the unwavering support from her teammates, Dellmore said her recovery was the most frustrating situation she had ever been in. She was in a wheelchair for about two months, then moved to a scooter with both of her feet booted.

“The time I was in the wheelchair was the hardest part,” said Dellmore. “I have so much respect now for people who don’t have the option of recovering and going back to ‘normal.’”

Contrary to how her injury made her feel, Dr. Kim Kaiser, UK HealthCare team physician and assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and Family and Community Medicine, said Dellmore was the ideal patient and athlete – “determined, hard-working, humble and genuine.” She was an expert at taking doctor’s orders and always working to get her strength back.

“She has a heart of gold,” said Kaiser. “Despite the original devastating news that this was likely going to take six months to heal and return to the pool, she was always focused on the positive aspects of her injury and meeting her academic, athletic and rehabilitation goals.”

After about four months, Dellmore was back on her feet again. She was fully back to diving by the start of her senior season in October.

“Her determination, perseverance and positive attitude are what allowed her to progress quickly and safely through rehab and get back to the sport she excels at and loves,” said Kaiser.

Emma felt more motivated than ever at the beginning of her senior season. There was something about coming off of her injury that made her determined to excel. She felt she really had a chance to qualify for NCAA Championships, and she knew it was the last time she would get that chance. Dellmore’s entire season was preparing her for it.

When March rolled around, it was time for the NCAA Zone C Diving Championships. This contest is the only opportunity divers have to compete for an invitation to the NCAA Championships – Dellmore’s goal. However, there was a dark cloud looming - all day during the meet, the team was hearing rumors about other divisions that were no longer competing because of COVID-19.

“For some reason, I really wasn’t too worried,” said Dellmore. “I think I was so focused on my goals that I was trying to tune out all the noise.”

When it was finally time to step up to the board that day, Dellmore didn’t feel nervous at all. She was ready. The Lancaster Aquatic Center was following social distancing requirements, so each diver was allowed to have one spectator present. Dellmore and her teammates were swapping around all day, so she was lucky enough to have both of her parents there.

While there had been no announcements about what the rest of the season would hold, Dellmore knew that would be her final dive of her career. After hearing encouragement from her friends, she leapt from the board and effortlessly performed her personal best dive.

“I ripped it,” said Dellmore.

She returned to the surface of the pool to see her teammates jumping and celebrating and both of her parents smiling at her. She had reached her season-long goal – Dellmore made the cut to proceed to finals. Unfortunately, the diving season ended that day because of safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. Still, just to be healthy and back in the pool doing what she loved, was a huge win for her that day.

Dellmore is graduating from UK with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health. She has always loved helping others, but her injury really brought the caretaker out of her. She will be beginning nursing school in the fall, and is excited for what lies ahead.

Her college athletics career may not have turned out the way she planned it, but Dellmore is grateful for her time here with her second family.

“I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything,” said Dellmore. “My teammates and coaches changed my life.”

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.