Ever tried scuba diving? If so, you can agree it’s a sport that offers an incredible feeling of freedom. The weightlessness of the water, the muted sounds of sea life, the excitement of exploring coral reefs, caves, and wreck sites — these are all reasons why scuba is such a popular sport.
But for injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, scuba is much more. It’s an effective form of rehab that promotes mobility and instills confidence in men and women facing new disabilities like amputations and traumatic brain injury.
A program called SUDS (Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba) has helped young, wounded heroes by offering scuba dive training as aquatic therapy treatment. Since the nonprofit began in 2007, SUDS has awarded open water dive certifications to well over 200 injured veterans.
“These soldiers were all very athletic, active people before their injury, and now they suffer from amputations—some are triple amputees, and they see that if they can do something as challenging as scuba diving, they can do anything,” said John Thompson, founder of SUDS, which is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and partner of the Wounded Warrior Project.
The dive certification is impressive, but it’s the intrinsic value of the program that has made such an impact on participants.
“SUDS helps keep you active and helps you to push yourself,” explained veteran Shane Heath, who lost his left arm and leg during his third deployment in Iraq. “The mental rewards are the biggest thing. It builds confidence in that just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t participate in life. It’s been an absolute blessing for me.” Shane is now training to become a dive master and spends his free time playing disc golf and following his dream to be a singer and songwriter.
SUDS scuba classes are offered weekly at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Much of the training can be done in the pool, but soldiers take trips to the ocean to complete their dive certification.
“My favorite moment is watching these guys come up from their first dive and seeing how excited they are when they realize there really isn’t much they can’t do,” described Larry Hammonds, volunteer dive instructor for SUDS and assistant manager at Adventure Scuba Company in Chantilly, Virginia. “They develop a whole new attitude toward life.”
“The ocean trips are very therapeutic. It’s a good group of guys, and when we’re there, we don’t think about our injuries,” said Dave McRaney, who was injured during his service in Afghanistan.
These trips are much-needed getaways from wounded warriors’ normal hospital rehab routines, and destinations have ranged from Cuba to Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys. But trips and equipment are expensive, so SUDS relies on support and donations from a number of businesses and organizations.
A Helping Hand from a Local Business
Adventure Scuba Company is one of the businesses committed to SUDS and its mission. In the past four years, the business has supported SUDS in a number of ways. The owners have donated equipment, provided free maintenance, hosted raffles to raise funds for the cause, and given a percentage of profits from its open houses and dive trips.
Company owners Henry Johnson, Bob Potterton, and Peter Juanpere came across SUDS when they were looking for a way to use their business to give back to the community. Henry is a retired marine, Bob’s dad was in the military, and a handful of dive instructors are also ex-military, so SUDS was just the right fit.
“We wanted to do something that meant a lot to us,” said Bob Potterton. “We’re a small shop and we can’t help everybody, but we can certainly do what we can for our military guys and gals.”
In the past, Adventure Scuba Company used its status as a dive tour operator to help arrange a SUDS trip with the use of its condos in Key Largo. Next year, the shop will put together a live aboard dive trip for injured veterans in the Bahamas or the Florida Keys.
“The veterans risked a lot and we believe they deserve a lot in return. We’re going to continue to help out as much as we can,” added Henry.
Megan Tyson is a freelance writer and cause marketing consultant. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.brightercausemarketing.com for more information about cause marketing copywriting.