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Armes grateful for motion

A dive into the pool nearly cost Del Oro junior his athletic career instead of just his junior season
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Eager to escape triple-digit heat during halftime of a JV water polo game, Del Oro varsity goalkeeper Jason Armes dove into the pool to warm up for his first home match. The decision nearly cost the junior his ability to move. Armes didn’t see the Roseville player swimming underwater toward a team huddle. He connected headfirst with the visiting athlete’s shoulder blade, immediately rising to the surface to apologize. “As soon as I popped up I said sorry to the kid, then swam away kind of confused,” Armes said. Lori Thomson, a retired American Medical Response EMT whose oldest son coaches Del Oro’s JV team and youngest defends the goal, had watched Armes dive in and the exchange that followed. “I was kind of keeping an eye on him and saw him grab the back of his neck,” Thomson said. As Armes exited the pool, he complained only of muscle tightness. Eric Sprouse, a CalSTAR III flight nurse and father of another Del Oro athlete, joined Thomson to conduct an assessment in the pool house. “His muscles were spasming because something was wrong,” Thomson said. “It hurt when he pushed down on the top of his head. At that point it’s just a precaution, but I can tell you after 24 years in this industry it’s better to be safe than sorry 100 percent of the time.” Armes was taken by ambulance to Sutter-Roseville in a C-Spine collar, where X-rays revealed a C-2 neck fracture. “He could be a quadriplegic, that’s the bottom line,” Thomson said. “There’s only one vertebrae above that. With that high of a fracture, he’s so blessed for it all to have worked out.” The 5-foot-9, 135-pound Armes was reluctant to leave the water, comparing the pain to a pulled muscle. “I’ve broken bones in the past,” the junior said. “I was just thinking my neck was tight. I was ready to go back and warm up. The pain was really minor.” Thomson knew the possible gravity of the situation. “Had he pushed his way through it and played more water polo, been hit in the head or had further injury that involved his cords, he could be paralyzed,” she said. Head coach Stuart Ryland called Armes’ mother, Marlene, who was setting up for her back-to-school night at Northside Elementary in Cool. “We don’t usually miss his games,” she said. “Stu said, ‘We think he’s fine, he’s talking and talking and moving his arms and legs.’ I was still concerned. You’re concerned anytime somebody is put in an ambulance and put in the hospital.” Armes stayed at the hospital a few days to make sure there was no spinal damage. He spent the next three weeks at home in a neck brace. “I went on kind of a home-and-hospital independent study with the school,” said Armes, who sports a 4.0 cumulative GPA. Armes’ Spanish teacher visited his house twice a week to conduct class in his living room. His AP U.S. History teacher e-mailed assignments and geography teacher kept him up-to-date on bookwork. “They were being really cooperative,” said Armes, who is nearly caught up after X-rays taken last Friday revealed slow but steady healing and cleared him to return to school Monday for the first time since the Sept. 4 accident. He’ll wear the neck brace for two more months. “It’s really kind of bulky and it’s uncomfortable,” Armes said. “For the pain level I was in it kind of seems ridiculous but I know it’s necessary. I’m so lucky. An inch one way I’m paralyzed, an inch another way I’m practicing and playing in a game right now.” Armes’ injury has increased awareness of a rule that prohibits diving into the pool mid-game. “In some respects it’s a freak accident but in other respects they have rules in water polo about diving into the pool for just this reason,” Ryland said. “You think it should be safe to dive into such a deep pool, but it’s always a big crowd when it’s switching games or the JV is finishing the first half. Kids just forget. We don’t dive anymore.” Armes, a longtime swimmer who immersed himself into water polo six years ago during one of Ryland’s youth camps, won’t play again this year, “I would like to get back in the water and help my team because they have a really good opportunity to place really high this season,” he said. “I would like to be a part of that, but all the coaches and my parents say that a season’s not worth pain for the rest of your life.” He still has another varsity season to look forward to. “It’s not completely bumming me out because it’s not my senior year,” Armes said. “I’m not going to let it hold me back.”