Breakdown Barriers with Scubility

By: Kate Heller

“I can’t do that,” “How can I do that if I can’t kick.”

Statements such as these and more have been made about Scuba diving. They’ve been made by our Veterans as well as others who have experienced or lived a life where they have to accommodate to their surroundings.  The activity that adapts to their way of life is scuba diving by means of a program called Scubility.  It’s a program that many as well as myself have a passion for.

The dive shop I first started working with would participate in two annual events that would demonstrate how Scuba is a sport made for everyone.   Each year the shop and over 40 volunteers  participate in the Military Games. The Military Games is a multi-day weekend long event where our Veterans are flown in from all over the country to participate and experience many different sports activities which also exposes them to scuba diving.  All of these events have them adapting to them in some way.  Scuba has become one of the favorite activities over the years.  After talking to some of these war heroes, they’ll tell you how the water is therapy to them.  A major example of this is from the Vets whose joints bother them on a daily basis and found relief in the weightlessness of the underwater environment. .  Some of the individuals noticed that the pain in their joints was almost nonexistent while underwater.  Having the privilege to work with our vets is an incredibly rewarding experience not only because it’s a form of giving back, but it also feels amazing to know that you were able to help them find relief in a sport that not only brings them physical relief but also shows them a different form of therapy. It’s quiet, involves no talking, just the therapy of the water and moving at their own pace.

Water is a great equalizer, no matter what condition you are in, the water is forgiving!

We all have limited time underwater and moving can be accomplished in many ways. Many of the vets felt a calm as the extraneous chatter above water quickly turned into the sound of their breathing and exhalation bubbles underwater. Moving didn’t bring them the same restrictions or discomfort and as they swam underwater it didn’t seem to them that they were at a disadvantage to anyone else.  The same can be said for the Caring for Kids program.

Imagine a life altering experience happen where you no longer had complete use of some part of your body.

Now imagine that happening to you at a young age.  You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, school dances, sports, even driving.  Now you not only have to cope with not being able to use some part of your body, but you have to adapt to the world around you.  During the summer of 2016 I was able to take a trip with the dive shop I previously worked for to the Florida Keys with an amazing group of kids from RIC (Rehab Institute of Chicago) Caring for Kids Program.  The kids varied in abilities, with some having limited use of their legs, while others were paralyzed from the waist down.  We spent 5 weeks with these kids bringing them through the Caring for Kids Scubility Program that ultimately leads up to the Florida Keys Trip.

Daniel Kowalski a 12 year old from the 2014 trip stated, “When I was first offered the chance [to scuba dive] I was frozen in my mind.  This was because I always wanted to do this… [Diving] helped me in my rehabilitation on my hand.”  Participants, such as Daniel is what Scubility is all about.  The participants from the 2015 trip were no different.  It was amazing being able to see them go from thinking there was no way they could participate in this sport to flying through the water and helping them begin to realize thier capabilities.  Kelsey Watters an Occupational Therapist and Program Specialist with RIC was able to experience this first hand.  “Scuba diving is an incredible opportunity for individuals with all abilities to challenge themselves in a unique way.  I am so grateful to be a part of the Caring for Kids program at RIC.  I had the chance to work with young people who faced their fears and pushed past them.  On the last day, when one of the participants came to the surface and gave a thumbs up—it nearly brought me to tears.  For so long, he had resisted getting in the water and being a part of the group.  But on that last dive, he made his peace with the water and was able to enjoy the experience.”

The dive shop takes the kids and young adults through a program where they are moved beyond their comfort zone. Due to their disability, they have already adapted to different daily routines so adapting to the underwater world while unfamiliar and a totally different experience doesn’t seem to challenge them like you would think.  The staff have the challenge of adapting to both equipment and themselves to support the kids as they progress through the program. The ultimate goal is to have them experience the underwater world and to demonstrate that all can be accomplished no matter what the deficiency. As the staff learn what equipment works and the modifications to make, the divers are learning to match their abilities to the level and type of diving they want for their future. Diving is all about adapting and Scubility is all about supporting and developing that goal.

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