Conifer graduate Grado making splash in pool

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By Michael Hicks

Forty-eight hours prior to the platform finals at the USA Diving Olympic trials in Federal Way, Wash., Benjamin Grado had come to a conclusion that no matter what happened he would be happy with the result.
Why not? Just being in the finals, as Grado said, was a “great accomplishment in itself.”
But it was just one of many the 2007 Conifer High School graduate has accomplished since he ventured to the University of Arizona four and half years ago.
His list of accomplishments would be the envy of any diver:
 • Pac-10 newcomer of the year in 2008.
• Pac-12 diver of the year in 2012.
• Pac-12 champion in 1-meter, 3-meter and platform diving, becoming the first Arizona Wildcat to win a conference title since diving coach Omar Ojeda won six events between 2001-02.
• NCAA champion in platform diving in 2012, the first in Arizona history.
“I never expected to win,” Grado, 23, said of the national championship. “I was going in having fun. Obviously, my eligibility was up after the NCAAs. I was going in to have fun, and I came out the NCAA champion.”
And he did that coming off reconstructive shoulder surgery in May 2010 that cost him a full season. Grado’s shoulder locked up and he felt numbness in his arm for six months as treatment did nothing to resolve the issue. Then doctors discovered a torn labrum and split rotator cuff. Surgery was the only option.
He redshirted his senior season, giving him another year of eligibility. But it also left him hesitant if he could even make it back to the NCAA championships.
“I didn’t know how realistic it was just because they had to repair my shoulder,” the two-time 4A state diving champion said.
But one person who had no doubt of how successful Grado could be was his former coach at the University of Arizona Michele Mitchell.
“I told his parents that was pretty much the plan (winning a national championship) when I saw him,” said Mitchell, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in diving at the 1984 and ’88 Summer Games. “He’s got a really big heart, a ton of natural ability. His work ethic is unmatched.”
That brings us to the USA Diving Trials. Grado, the son of Santiago and Loriann Grado, reached the platform finals after placing 10th in the semifinals June 19 with 743.85 points. The top 12 advanced to the finals.
Grado wasn’t able to climb into one of the top two positions to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team headed to the 2012 Summer Games in London. He trailed top qualifier David Boudia by 339.9 points entering the June 23 final and finished seventh. But just the simple fact that Grado, who also reached the semifinals of the 3-meter springboard, was there spoke volumes.
“Being at the Olympics Trials by itself is the absolute destination of any athlete in the U.S.,” Mitchell said. “Being here by itself is a huge accomplishment.”
And, as if that’s not enough, whether Grado made the U.S. Olympic team or not, the psychology major already had his next adventure lined up — a gig with Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas.
Not shabby for the 5-foot-4 Grado, who has a fear of height. He couldn’t convince himself to dive off a 10-meter platform until the past two years. But the fear of doing so is probably why Grado’s been so successful in the first place, Mitchell said.
“The fear is alive and well. You keep thinking that you don’t want to be lackluster that high up. It can produce disaster,” Mitchell said. “Fear is a funny thing. Fear is the opposite end of success. Those who are fearful are often the most successful in life. That would be Ben.”