by Casey Tart
People everywhere go through various experiences in their lives which affect them in some way. The resulting effects can be good, bad, or a combination of both. It’s not until you find and develop your own internal motivation that an experience really becomes a defining moment in your life. This happened to me a little over a year ago when I started my journey into the underwater world. The exhilaration of breathing underwater, the peace and calm of feeling weightless, and the awe of the vast underwater world is absolutely amazing. This experience was unprecedented; however, the inspiration and overall impact diving had on my health and wellbeing was even more profound.
I was going through a difficult time in life, and unfortunately was letting the frustrations and challenges in my life affect my happiness and well being. Over a period of 4 or 5 years, my quality of life slowly deteriorated. The pressures of supporting a family, working long hours, night shift rotations, and financial stress became what defined my identity. I was showing all the signs of depression and didn’t realize it; loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, fatigue, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, insomnia, and weight gain. It wasn’t until my doctor told me I was approaching the obese BMI threshold for my age group, that I became aware of how much my overall health and happiness had degraded. I knew then I was facing a rock bottom situation. I reached out to my father, because he has always been a stalwart constant in my life. His advice was fitting for the type of father he had been for me growing up. He and I had been through some very tough times in my childhood, and he was always there to do what was needed to get me and my brother through the hard times. My father said I needed to take care of myself first in order to be able to provide and care for my family. If I was sick and unhappy, I would not be able to be the father and husband my family needed. He asked me, “What do you want to do for yourself, to take time to relax and recharge?” I immediately thought about his interest in scuba diving and the way he talked about it. Seeing the joy and excitement it brought him was invigorating. Getting open water certified and diving had fulfilled a lifelong dream for him. He did this later in life and only regretted that he had not tried sooner. Also, we grew up on the coast, so I had many fond memories of swimming, boating, and being in the water. So I answered his question, “I would like to learn to dive with you.” If you know my father, that was it, and now I was committed. Just talking about doing something is not his way, so we set a date. He called his dive shop in Florida the next day, ordered the open water material and scheduled a time for me to go with him in three months for the certification. I knew I needed to make some dramatic changes, and this was the pivotal moment when I started my climb out of the hole.
I spent the next couple of days researching what was needed to pass the open water certification. I watched videos of diver’s underwater experiences, which further exhilarated and inspired me to become a member of this adventurous community. I also knew that just acquiring a certification would not be enough. This was an active community, that from my research, was obviously able to adapt to different and sometimes difficult situations and physical stress. I needed to be able to enjoy this as a hobby, and it was going to bring balance to my life. So I started to research weight loss, fitness tips and techniques, and made a promise to myself that I would lose 25 pounds before my certification test. I researched what was a healthy caloric intake for me, planned out a fitness and exercise routine, and started a journal to track and log my progress. I had no idea what I was capable of, but I was determined to become a diver, and this was my path to a happier and healthier life. To my surprise, I was losing weight fast, and my energy levels increased almost immediately. I was much more engaged at work, at home, and was fully entertained by the training material. I would call my father and discuss SAC rate calculations, Boyle’s law as it relates to pressure underwater, and discuss types of scuba systems and equipment even though it was more advanced knowledge than what is required for a basic open water certification. I was hooked!
On the day of the test, I weighed in and had lost well over my 25 pound weight loss goal. 30 pounds in three months, I was immensely surprised at the results in such a short time! I completed my swim test and dive skills with ease, and received an almost perfect score on the written exams. My instructor described me to other professionals in the shop as an “A” student, and extremely comfortable in the water. I was equally impressed with the support and patience of the dive professionals, which set the tone for what I now know as the most encouraging and supportive community of people I have ever been a member of.
Now, I am a certified Open Water Scuba Diver, and I can’t wait to get in the water again! That week my father and I dove the Crystal River Springs in Florida, 2 dives per day for 5 days. It was just as I had imagined and seen in the videos, amazing! The water was warm, clear, no currents, and definitely optimal dive conditions for a newly certified diver. When I came home after that week, I couldn’t wait to get in the water again. I researched local dive shops and luckily when I walked into Air Hogs Scuba, the dive professionals were just as fun and encouraging as the other divers I met in Florida. I asked them, “How can I stay active and in the water here away from the coast?” They introduced me to Public Safety Diving and over the past year with Air Hogs, I have continued through Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver, and Master Scuba Diver recreational certifications. I have also started ERDI Operations training, and have been actively volunteering with a local rescue & EMS public safety dive team, as well as, diving with some very impressive divers. I am honored to be a member of a public safety dive team, and to be diving with some of North Carolina’s best Sheriffs’ Deputies and EMS professionals. The team has been training or supporting local swimming events on an average of twice a month, and I am now working on my professional Divemaster rating, and I am just as excited as I was a year ago about continuing my training and involvement in scuba diving. I have attended private schools, military academies, and have worked in corporate business environments in multiple industries throughout my life, and cannot compare any other experience to the comradery of the diving community as a whole.
I can say proudly a year later, I have lost over 50 pounds, co-workers have mentioned a notable change in my overall happiness and engagement, and my family and I have greatly improved our quality of life. Diving itself may not have been the activity that directly burned 50+ pounds of fat, however it was the lifestyle change and motivation that lead to my success of weight loss, and a healthier and happier lifestyle. Hopefully, I am now being the father and husband that my wife and kids will be proud of!