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Heather Martin knows what it's like to play with pain.

The John Carroll junior won her third straight Harford County girls diving title Feb. 14. As soon as the competition ended, she quickly iced down a swollen, aching ankle.

For two seasons, Martin dove with a sore ankle that had never fully healed from ligament damage suffered in an auto accident three days before Christmas 1990. She spent nine months in physical therapy, but the ankle still hurts.

"I've never had an injury that lasted solong," said Martin, 16, a former gymnast. "I think I did dive on it a little too soon. But I just got sick and tired of waiting for it toget better, so I did what I wanted to do."

She also played tennislast fall for John Carroll before dominating the county diving season.

Martin didn't lose a single meet. In the championship finals, she outdistanced her nearest competitor, C. Milton Wright senior AngieHopkins, 82.75 to 79.10.

Although she frequently limped to the diving board, Martin dove consistently well throughout the season. Judges often marked her as high as 6.5, out of a perfect 10, on a single dive.

The aches and pains are nothing new to Martin, who reigned for three years as a state all-around gymnastics champion. Almost as soon as she learned to do a back handspring, Martin learned that chronic injuries were as much a part of gymnastics as the balance beam.

"I had chronic knee problems, four ankle sprains and wrist problems.It always seemed to be something," said Martin, who ended her gymnastics career after her freshman year in high school because of "too many injuries."

By then, Martin had found a sport to take the place of gymnastics. After practicing in their backyard pool, Martin and her sister Kim, now 18, joined the John Carroll diving team.

Their gymnastics training made them competitive right away.

"Gymnastics helps with the straight legs and the pointed toes and the flexibility.It gets you associated with flipping," said Martin, who is 5-foot-3 and 105 pounds.

This summer, she will practice some of the new dives she wasn't able to do last season.

If she can nail a forward double and an inward one-and-a-half from her backyard diving board, Martin will use them in competition next season.

"My ankle really affected my forward dives, because I couldn't get as much bounce on my approach. On the back and inward dives, it didn't bother me as much," said Martin, whose most difficult dive last season was a back dive with 1 1/2 somersaults.

For now, the John Carroll honor student willspend some time on the sidelines with a cast on her ankle. If immobilizing it for a couple of weeks doesn't help, she may need surgery, Martin said.

She wants the ankle to heal completely, and soon -- certainly in time for next year's diving season, when she will go for her fourth straight county title.

After that, Martin hopes to continue diving in college, where she plans to study physical therapy -- something she already knows a little too much about.

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