Orthofix is a Proud Sponsor of Olympian Laura Wilkinson
“In order to do things no one has ever done, you have to be willing to do things no one else is willing to do.”
Laura Wilkinson made history at the 2000 Olympics when she became the first American woman since 1964 to win a Gold Medal in platform diving. Laura was not expected to place at the 2000 Olympics because of China’s dominant team, but the odds against her increased even more after she shattered three bones in her foot during peak training season. In fact, Laura wasn’t able to actually resume diving until three weeks before the Olympic Trials. Despite the overwhelming odds, Laura won the trials and made her first Olympic team. In one of the most memorable comebacks in Olympic history, Laura, a.k.a. “The Comeback Kid,” started in 8th place and ended by winning the Olympic Gold Medal in platform diving – all with a broken foot.
A latecomer to the sport, Laura started diving at 15 years old; Coach Kenny Armstrong has been her mentor since the very beginning. Over the years, Laura has won 19 USA Diving National Titles, and she’s the only American diver to win a Goodwill Games Gold Medal in history. A 3-time Olympian (2000, 2004, and 2008), Laura also won gold at the 2004 World Cup and 2005 World Championship, becoming the first woman in history to win all three world titles in platform diving.
“The best advice that Coach Armstrong has ever given me was to aim for the top,” said Laura. “Don’t just try and make the Olympic team, go to win. Go big or go home.”
After winning every major diving competition, Laura and her husband Eriek decided it was time to start a family. She retired from diving but stayed connected to the sports world as a reporter, analyst and color commentator at various events, including the 2012 London Olympic Games and 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The young couple eventually had four children by birth and adoption (China and Ethiopia).
After a 9-year retirement, Laura missed the sport and started diving again in 2017. After confirming with her coach that she “wasn’t crazy” to think she was still able to dive competitively, Laura began training for her fourth Olympic Games. Everything was proceeding along well until late 2018 when Laura realized something was very wrong when one of her arms kept going numb. Years of hitting the water at 38 miles per hour had taken a toll on Laura’s spine; she was diagnosed with cervical disc degeneration and needed a spinal fusion.
“I thought I was ultimately going to have to make a choice to fix my neck if I wanted to dive, but what I learned was I needed to fix my spine in order to not have a catastrophic event happen,” said Laura. “I needed surgery in order to be a mom for my four children.”
In December 2018, Laura had a successful anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery using an Orthofix cervical plate system to stabilize her spine in combination with Trinity ELITE™ allograft to aid in bone fusion. During her recovery, Laura wore an Orthofix CervicalStim™ Device, a lightweight and portable device that uses electromagnetic energy to stimulate bone growth at the fusion site. After six months of recovery and wearing the CervicalStim device, Laura was deemed fully fused by her physician. Soon she was back in the water and proceeded to secure a spot to compete during the Olympic trials; Laura continued training with her sights firmly set on representing the U.S. at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Although Laura’s journey ended with a Top 10 finish at U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, she continues to inspire people around the world.
“I think knowing that I’m pushing myself to something greater, even if I don’t reach it, I’m going to become a better person,” continues Laura. “I’m going to become more capable than I was already. And here’s the kicker: sometimes you hit those goals, sometimes you win gold medals and amazing things happen too, and that’s definitely worth fighting for.”