Diving for danger

August 4, 2008 7:25:45 AM PDT
Low board, not the high-dive platform, is the riskiest place at the pool

Every 4 years, when the olympics roll around, interest in diving goes up.

Surprisingly, researchers are just delving into the dangers of diving boards.

Today, the first-ever national study on diving injuries is out, showing they happen a lot more than you'd expect - about once an hour in the U-S.

Chelsea Davis suffered one of the more famous injuries - at the World Championships in 2005.

Her head hit the board.

Chelsea recalls, "My nose was broken in about 10 places, and I fracturesd my chedck bone, and I sprained my neck."

But Shawn Meneely barely remembers the incident that happened when he was just 16 that changed his life forever.

"I don't remember actually going into the water, just going off the board," Meneely, now 33, recalled.

Meneely went off the diving board into a pool that was only 7½ feet at the deepest point, and hit his head on the incline leading into shallower water.

He has done relatively well since then, graduating college and now working in financial services for UBS in Seattle. But he also needs an aide to help him get dressed and prepare his food before he takes his five-block commute to work in his wheelchair.

"He has and has had from day one a fabulous attitude," said his mother, Kathy Meneely. But at the same time, she said, "He's had a lot of medical issues."

A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that a significant number of children come close to repeating Meneely's experience each year.

Kids between 10 and 14 years of age - not teenagers - are most likely to be hurt - and not in the risky high dives.

"It's not the older boys who are engaged in other high risk behaviors," says one doctor. "It's the age group that's still under our supervision."

"More than 80 per cent of the dive injuries were from a dive height of 1 meter or less. So, that is not the high-dive, the platform dive, this is th lowest dive height available at the pool," says Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., the lead researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

McKenzie said the study should be the first step toward broader awareness of diving injuries and efforts to educate people about how they happen and how they can be prevented.

"The number of diving injures is pretty high, and this has been consistent over this time period," she said. "I don't know if it's a cause for alarm, but it's a cause for concern."

Diving is a growing sport, and McKenzie said that the increased complexity of dives children may attempt has undoubtedly contributed to a number of the injuries.

Several pediatric emergency departments contacted by ABC News for this story said they had no experience dealing with diving injuries, so this study has led some doctors to conclude that the problem is more common than expected.

Most people are hurt trying to do flips - especially back-flips.

If your child wants to learn how to do them, enroll them in a program with a qualified instructor.