by Kennedy Goodwin (age 12) and Amy Hendershott:
Kennedy’s Mom: Kennedy first started asking to take scuba diving lessons when she was nine. At that point she had been telling us for several years that she was going to one day be a marine biologist, specializing in sharks. She loves swimming underwater, whether it be in a pool or snorkeling in the ocean. So she often pointed out that the next logical step to her marine biologist dream was to learn how to scuba. I didn’t disagree but I didn’t really look into it either. It wasn’t because she was so young. It wasn’t because I’m claustrophobic and the mere thought of scuba diving gives me a panic attack (true story). It wasn’t because I didn’t believe in her. But you see Kennedy was born with something called Goldenhar Syndrome. Some of the major symptoms and effects of this syndrome include missing or irregular facial features, facial and mouth paralysis, hearing loss, sinus irregularities, skeletal issues which also affect the lungs, a missing kidney, among many others. To scuba, I knew Kennedy was going to have to overcome scoliosis and kyphosis of the spine and a misplaced shoulder blade in order for the gear to fit correctly and for her to be able to handle wearing the gear without pain. I knew she was going to have to overcome facial and mouth paralysis to not only be able to keep a regulator in her mouth, but keep it in and use it correctly for long periods of time. I knew she was going to have to overcome sinus and lung issues to withstand diving at such deep depths for prolonged periods of time. And I knew she was going to have to learn how to do this while deaf, as she can only hear with a hearing aid that cannot be worn in the water. Frankly, the thought of her trying to overcome all of these obstacles scared this mama to death. But she believed she could do it, so she did.
Kennedy: I love sharks. I don’t know why, I just do. When I heard about scuba diving and saw videos of it, I knew I wanted to do it. It looked so awesome, fun, and cool…how you could be so close to animals in the water. Immediately, my dream became to scuba dive with sharks. I have always loved swimming; it is my favorite thing to do in the summer. I love the beach and I love the ocean. I love the creatures in the ocean. For as long as I can remember, I loved learning about different marine animals. And since I was 7 or so, I knew that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I really wanted to scuba dive, because I knew that when I took the career path that I wanted to take, I could do a lot of things with diving.
Kennedy’s Mom: By the time she was 12, I was a pro at putting Kennedy off when she brought up the scuba discussion. It scared me and I could not trust my baby girl and her life to just anyone. Then Kennedy was nominated by Duke Children’s Hospital and named by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) as the 2014 CMNH Champion for the state of North Carolina. And something awesome happened. Upon hearing this news and Kennedy’s dream to one day scuba dive, Air Hogs Scuba (of Clayton, NC) came into our lives. They contacted me, said they wanted to teach Kennedy how to dive, convinced me that she could do it, and set the wheels in motion. The Air Hogs team worked with Kennedy all summer, helping her to overcome each and every obstacle that she faced. And she will admit that it wasn’t easy at times. But they gave her all the confidence that she needed to try again when things got difficult. When she calmly signaled underwater that she was in trouble and came up with a major sinus issue, they started trouble-shooting to figure out ways to avoid it on future dives. They never gave up on her, and because of that she never gave up on herself. On October 4, 2014, 12 year old Kennedy received her open-water scuba certification. At some points along the way, I wasn’t sure this was going to happen. But she believed she could do it, so she did.
Kennedy: I love diving. It’s awesome. You can see from the perspective of the marine animals. You can see how they live. When I’m diving, it makes me feel like there are no limits to what I can do. I feel free. I was so happy when I got certified. When I got certified, I knew I could do anything.
Kennedy’s Mom: Kennedy cannot wait for warmer weather to get back underwater. She cannot wait to scuba in the ocean for the first time (hopefully with sharks nearby!). She cannot wait to better her skills and be even more comfortable at 40 feet below. She cannot wait till she has convinced us to take her to the Caribbean or Hawaii and let her scuba in those beautiful waters. She cannot wait to continue following her dreams under the sea.
She has conquered 19 surgeries to date, multiple hospitalizations, and many life-threatening infections. She has conquered living a life looking and sounding different from her peers. She has conquered having to be stronger than most of us ever will have to. Conquering health issues so she can scuba dive? Well, she believed she could do it, so she did. I hope she inspires others to believe they can do it too.
Kennedy: I hope that having the open water diving certification can help me later in life. I hope that it can help me go far in my career, and allow me to see things I’ve never seen before. I hope to one day go scuba diving in Hawaii with animals such as sea turtles, fish, sharks, and coral.
Never let challenges stop you. Whatever is in your way, you can overcome it. Nothing limits you. You can always figure out a way to make something work or overcome a challenge. I believed I could, so I did.