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Ex-gymnast Culp finds salvation in new sport

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:32 a.m.
Ericka Culp, Westminster diver
Ericka Culp, Westminster diver
Ericka Culp, Westminster diver
Ericka Culp, Westminster diver

Ericka Culp is a big believer in the adage that if one door closes, another door opens.

The Westminster College freshman and Avonmore native had to give up gymnastics — her first love — because of an injury. But like others in her situation, she has traded the balance beam for a diving board.

“Diving was always the graveyard for gymnasts, and was always in the back of my mind,” Culp said. “When I started getting hurt, I knew someday I might have to dive; it's the last resort for gymnasts when they get hurt too much but still want to do a sport.”

Culp found immediate success at the college level. She has broken her school's record in the 1- and 3-meter dives this season. She broke her own record in the 3-meter dive. The previous 1-meter mark stood for 20 years.

When Culp was 14, she suffered a serious back injury while practicing gymnastics. But there were more injuries to follow.

“I had to give up gymnastics because I just couldn't do it anymore,” Culp said. “I've had knee problems, broke both ankles and sprained both ankles a couple of times. I have tendinitis in my wrists and bulging discs in my back.”

Culp has a bone disease that has caused her discomfort.

“It's pretty painful, too,” she said. “It's actually really painful to sit in class, because the bone is big and is pushing on tendons. I have to ice my knees and back every day after practice.”

Diving also affects those injuries. In fact, Culp will have knee surgery March 4 to remove calcification in her knee. The knee injury is just another obstacle for Culp, and does not seem to faze this driven athlete.

Culp doesn't plan to stop diving, and her attitude helps to keep her going.

“The fight to never give up helps me, and my friends, family, and God all support my will to get better,” Culp said. “I actually did a paper and used a quote from George S. Patton saying, ‘I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs, but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.' ”

She uses this attitude not only in the pool but also by helping others in need. Culp and her sister, Aubree, run a charity called Hugs N' Hearts. Culp started the charity after her major back injury in gymnastics. She was overwhelmed by all the support she received, and she decided to do something to help others when she recovered.

Among the good deeds of the Culp sisters: fixing meals for people; visiting elderly shut-ins; helping an Avonmore man who was robbed of sports memorabilia; and helping a family who lost their home when a plane crashed into it.

Culp has a lot on her plate with running a charity and being a student-athlete, but she somehow manages to get everything done.

“It gets a little overwhelming at times, but I try really hard,” Culp said. “I spend a lot of hours at the library, and I don't really sleep much. I'm always tired.”

For now, Culp is awaiting her surgery just so she can begin the rehab process. She's already set her sights on next season. Her diving records may be in jeopardy — again.

“I hope next season I can break them again,” she said.

Jesse Huba is a freelance writer.

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