Over the past few years, many of you have followed the stories associated with our dive buddy Kennedy. For those of you who are new to her stories, she was the 2014 North Carolina Children’s Miracle Network Champion. During her lifetime, she has dealt with various medical concerns and a greater number of major surgeries than the number of years she has been alive. Despite it all, she has been a trooper and she has never complained to those of us who have had the privilege of meeting her.
A few years ago, a friend and customer of our dive shop in North Carolina approached us about a little girl he had heard about at work. She was being sponsored by a major hotel chain as she worked to spread awareness about various medical issues, research, and support systems. Our friend had seen that she was very interested in marine biology, and one of our local hotels had been entirely decorated with marine life for her. Following his suggestion, we reached out to her family and made the offer of attempting to make her a diver. If the possibility was available, we wanted to give her the chance to get closer to the creatures she loved. Following a year of careful training and methodical work, and with the support of SDI, Stuart Scuba, and Dive Rite, Kennedy was able to experience both real marine life in the ocean, and the amazing springs of north Florida. After a few wonderful dives with new industry friends, she traveled back home with only one objective left unchecked on her wish list.
From the very beginning, Kennedy had a strong fascination with sharks.
She wanted to see them and was hopeful every time she got wet. Despite multiple attempts, it just did not happen. In the following months, life happened again and Kennedy found herself facing new surgeries, new concerns, and a possible end to diving. At Christmas that year, even Kennedy began to openly speak about diving like it was a thing from the past. To help boost her spirits and let her know she would return to the sport, Hollis made sure she had a new dive computer that Christmas morning.
As time passed and more time was spent in hospitals, Kennedy’s mother began to ask about when and where we were going when she was released to dive again. Tentative plans were made and fingers were crossed. Our industry family had not lost the love it had developed for Kennedy. As an example, one of Kennedy’s surgeries required that the medical facility be prepared with a high quantity of her blood type on hand in case of a situation in which it could be needed. The planning behind this need had met some level of error and there was a concern that the blood would not be available. Following a social media post, dozens of divers began to call in asking if they could drive to the hospital and donate blood immediately because they had the proper blood type. Things turned out for the best, but the dive community was still watching what was happening to its dive buddy. In a unique turn of events, and after a hopeful phone call from a worried mother, Duke Dive Medicine agreed to see Kennedy. Not long thereafter, we had the approval we needed. Kennedy was going to dive again.
Though it was a quiet joke, there was only one objective
As has been the case every time, when the dive community heard Kennedy could dive again, every door opened and love and support came from every angle. Though it was a quiet joke, there was only one objective. We had to find sharks. Our friends at Stuart Scuba once again made boats available and provided incredible support. It had been roughly 18 months since Kennedy had been diving with friends, and we knew it had to be good. On February 4th of this year, Kennedy returned to the water and had two amazing dives surrounded by professionals and friends. So far as being a diver, it was like she had never left the water. She was skilled, confident, and having fun. There were amazing sights and unique marine life, but no sharks. We only had one more day to accomplish our goal.
On February 5th, the same supportive team went back out onto the water. On the first dive of the day, the fish were schooling and the weather was perfect. Within only a few minutes of hitting the water, it seemed like everyone’s prayers had been answered. Mixed in among the schooling fish, something larger was cruising toward the divers. At first, one lonely reef shark cruised by and we all stopped to give Kennedy time to simply watch and realize what she was seeing. Within only a few more minutes six to eight more reef sharks swam up on us and began to cruise around and show off. As the day continued, we saw turtles and various other fantastic critters, but nothing beat the sharks. After so much time and hope, they showed up and made the day amazing. We had done it, she had finally seen her sharks in the ocean. Later that night, steaks and the Super Bowl made for evening entertainment with the team that made sure everyone was safe in the water.
It has been a long run, and we are not done yet.
We have had amazing support and an incredible outpouring of help along the way. Dive professionals, business owners, agency staffers, dive buddies, boat crews, and manufacturers have all jumped in to assist and they have never asked for anything in return. Since returning home once again, Kennedy has had to face scheduling more medical events, but we all know that when the time is right, we will have our next adventure. I cannot thank those who have been involved in this adventure so far, and I look forward to meeting those we continue to meet along the way.
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Clayton, NC; Cave Excursions, Live Oak, FL
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