Teaching or assisting divers with disabilities requires an alternative view and approach but in the end is extremely rewarding.
Scuba diving is a sport in which there are very few strangers. Most divers can remember the fun evenings at the bar or restaurant after long days of diving. Everyone in those memories is smiling, buying rounds, and telling tall tales. Simultaneously, that lone diver seeking a buddy while on vacation rarely has trouble finding someone willing to tag along. The reality is that scuba divers are often a merry bunch of people helping each other out and making sure everyone has a good time.
Aside from the shared adventures, storytelling, and buddy support that divers provide, the dive community as a whole is full of people who work hard to help others. The first example of genuine care can be seen in the disability programs developed and put forth by various training agencies. Scuba Diving International (SDI) maintains the Scubility program that allows individuals with differing disabilities to learn to scuba dive. Even those with quadriplegia, paraplegia, or no eye sight can learn to dive with buddy assistance. As this program grows and more instructors develop education in this realm, more and more individuals will get to experience time underwater. These potential students are individuals who otherwise may never get such an opportunity. The Scubility program is one that opens doorways for people and gives them a shot at a sport that they may have believed was lost forever. SDI is hosting a Scubility Diver and Instructor Program this November just before DEMA!
Find out how you can get involved with Scubility »
The veteran community is another realm in which many individuals face issues or concerns that traditionally may preclude potential students form learning to dive. All around the United States, dive professionals and dive facilities have opened their doorways to veterans and veteran-based programs in an effort to share scuba diving. Essentially, assistance-based programs have been developed and refined to ensure veterans with disabilities get the chance to seek proper medical approval and potentially discover the opportunity to dive. In many cases, these programs are difficult to set up and require dive professionals to spend extra time and effort to ensure that disabled veterans are provided with a quality education option with the support of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. These acts of support are what grow the scuba community and show divers that there are people out there who will help you find a way to learn if the opportunity can be discovered in a safe manner.
Even within the public safety community, efforts are made to help others. Many public safety dive teams provide community education days where children are invited to see and touch dive gear in an effort to help them understand how public safety personnel, especially divers, can help the community. The truth of the matter is that public safety divers are always working to help others. These divers volunteer to dive in terrible conditions to help perform rescues, solve crimes, or even protect the environment.
The reality behind divers helping others is that it starts at the local diving level. In recent months, I had the opportunity to see two local dive master candidates partake in a shop-based scavenger hunt. The two divers worked hard to recover plastic coins that could be traded for merchandise during a raffle. When the time came to cash in, the two divers selected items that they could give to a local young lady who suffered from various disabilities. Once others realized what they were doing, an instructor candidate at the dive site walked to his truck and retrieved a megalodon tooth to give to the young lady. Similarly, the dive shop employee running the raffle took all of the merchandise not selected in the raffle and handed it over as a donation. In an afternoon, four divers who could have had fun and earned some “swag,” chose to give instead. This attitude is what is great within the diving community.
In a similar instance in recent months, I watched a dive shop owner provide a FREE wetsuit to a young lady in need, and a renowned professional photographer provided time and photos for a family he did not know in his free time. The scuba community is one where there are no real strangers. Divers at all levels love to share knowledge and experience. Similarly, the community often bands together to support causes, friends, and those in need. The objective should be to expand this mindset and work to make the dive community even more open, friendly, and accepting. As you travel, explore, and continue your dive adventures, ask yourself how you can help others, and make diving that much better for those who love, or may one day love, the sport.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Earlier this year readers of the monthly Scuba Diving International publications had the opportunity to read about a young lady named Kennedy. For those who do not already know, Kennedy was the 2014 Children’s Miracle Network Champion for North Carolina. One of her dreams was to have the opportunity to spend some time under the water and enjoy the subsurface world. A local diver to her area named Tim Kintner contacted his local dive shop and asked if any help could be provided to young Kennedy. He made the connection that sparked a whirlwind of fun. For a few months, dive professionals came together to work with Kennedy, volunteering time and effort to make sure she received a quality education. Ray Wickham, Robert Bradish, and Josh Norris were a few of these professionals. Eventually, Kennedy was able to become certified as an SDI Open Water Scuba Diver. Her Journey did not end with earning her certification.
Shortly after becoming certified, staff members from Dive Rite had the opportunity to meet Kennedy during a shop event outside of Raleigh, N.C. During the first weekend of June those staff members and the crew at Dive Rite invited Kennedy to High Springs, Florida to dive. She was welcomed with open arms and got the chance to dive in some of the clearest waters on Earth. According to her mother, Kennedy was “excited and nervous, but she loved it.” She spent the weekend diving Ginnie Springs and Manatee Springs just having an all-around good time. In fact, Kennedy’s very first dive away from her local quarry was with Lamar Hires himself just inside the entrance to the Ginnie ball room. Throughout the weekend, John McCain and Bre Grant spent time going back over dive education and making sure that Kennedy had the opportunity to experience everything she could while in “cave country.” Simultaneously, Peter Lapin spent the weekend shooting beautiful images for Kennedy and her family to remember forever. Cave Country Dive Shop even donated gas to keep Kennedy in the water. All-in-all it was an amazing first experience away from home.
A short two weeks later, Kennedy was once again invited to Florida. This time she was invited by Sean Harrison and the staff at International Training to experience her very first salt water dives. That Friday, Kennedy and her family toured International Training headquarters and met every staff member in the building. The following morning, the entire International Training crew and all of their families met Kennedy at the Blue Herron Bridge to hit the water. During her first ocean dive, Kennedy was able to see at least ten different octopuses, a sea horse, a bat fish, and a flying gurnard. Again, Peter Lapin was following along recording everything for future memories. Following the dive, Peter Friedman of Stuart Scuba provided one of his facilities for everyone to eat a lunch rounded up by Jon and Lauren Kieren. Finally, on Sunday, Jon and Lauren Kieren took Kennedy out on a private boat provided by Peter Friedman to experience her first wreck dive just off of Stuart, Florida. Goliath groupers showed Kennedy just how big marine life can really get.
This entire experience to date shows the heart of the dive community. Time and again, individuals and groups took personal time to spend with a young lady who has a passion for scuba. Similarly, equipment, and resources were provided at the drop of a hat. Divers, dive professionals, and friends came together to make each experience as wonderful as possible. A young lady has now truly become a part of our diving community and has been welcomed at all levels by those she can now call friends.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
by Darren Pace:
For years, Scuba Diving International (SDI) has been providing courses for wounded soldiers in some of the most beautiful places in the world, such as Puerto Rico and Florida. Scuba diving not only takes the wounded heroes to some of the most scenic places around the world, but can also help soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Scuba diving helps by instilling confidence, letting them interact with other individuals who also have PTSD, and by allowing the soldiers to focus entirely on the process of learning to scuba dive, instead of thinking about their experiences during war. There are many other reasons why scuba diving has had profound effects on those who suffer from PTSD.
Enjoying The Sunlight
Numerous studies have indicated that sunlight can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of most psychological disorders. As UVB rays make contact with the skin, they cause the body to synthesize vitamin D. The human body is also known to produce a large amount of serotonin when sunlight comes into contact with the eyes.
Learning New Skills
Research has shown that the psychological impact of serious injuries has more substantial, negative effects on the lives of veterans than the physical wounds. In most cases, many of the soldiers who participate in these scuba diving programs were on the battlefield only three months prior to their first experience in the water. The process of studying and learning to dive will allow the individual to focus completely on recreational diving and possibly reduce the impact of negative thoughts for the first time since the soldier returned from the frontline.
Receiving A Certification
In addition to providing standard qualifications, Scuba Diving International has many other advanced certifications, such as: Advanced Diver, Computer Nitrox, and Solo Diver. During many of these courses, the individual will learn about the process of decompression and other advanced concepts from SDI’s experts.
Making New Friends
Many soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD feel that nobody understands their condition. Several studies have shown that talking to other veterans will substantially enhance a wounded warrior’s well-being, and accelerate the pace of the healing process of soldiers who have PTSD. Numerous people who have completed SDI’s programs have indicated that they made new friends with whom they will remain in contact for the rest of their lives.
A soldier who has been seriously wounded will likely be forced to remain in bed for several weeks or months. As a result, the individual’s muscles can begin to atrophy. When the veteran starts to participate in scuba diving, the injured person’s muscles will slowly become much stronger, and the soldier’s cardiovascular endurance will improve substantially.
Mitigating The Effects Of Associated Conditions
Frequently, individuals who have PTSD report symptoms of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. One study, conducted by Johns Hopkins, indicated that wounded veterans who finished multiple dives during one week were able to reduce their symptoms of depression and OCD by 15 percent.
Interacting With Marine Animals
Being near animals can lower a person’s heart rate, reduce the amount of cortisol in the individual’s body, and improve the soldier’s well-being. When participating in scuba diving, the veteran will be able to observe fish of all types, stingrays, turtles and countless other species that inhabit our waters.
Teaching New Divers
Many of the veterans who completed SDI’s courses have become instructors. Once an injured soldier learns to be an expert diver, he or she will be able to talk to more veterans who are in a similar position, and help these wounded soldiers to overcome their injuries or PTSD.
To sign up for a course or to find out more information, you can visit tdisdi.com or call 1-888-778-9073.
For more information about the study referenced in this article, please click here.
On December 9th, 2012, Leo Morales established a new Guinness World Record of Deep Diving for people with disabilities. With the support of a team of professional divers, he went down at 400 feet (120 meters). It was a complex and dangerous dive, for which Leo used 6 to 7 tanks of different gas mixes.
Leo is 39 years old and has been disabled for over four years. In September 2008, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, chondrosarcoma, which was already well spread in his right leg. He was given six months to live. Leo underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation that, unfortunately, did not produce any results. The only option left was to amputate his leg at the hip to prevent the disease from progressing, although he was only given a 20% chance to come out of the surgery alive.
Leo survived the amputation. Thanks to the unconditional support and love of Larena, his wife, he managed to overcome his disability and what were the darkest moments of his life. The desire of wanting to leave a legacy and to be a source of inspiration and motivation grew stronger.
Leo resumed diving, a sport that he started recreationally in 1997 when he first moved to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and fell in love with the ocean. Leo quickly came up with the idea to establish a world record in the area of technical diving to set an example that people can actually overcome their disabilities and go after their dreams. For Leo, the only disability is in the mind, but should definitely not be physical.
Leo is today in good physical condition and in good spirit. He lives to the fullest, knowing how precious life is and why it is so worth living.
The attempt of the record took place in the beautiful waters of Cozumel, Quintana Roo, at Palancar Reef, on December 9th, 2012 during the Cozumel Scuba Fest. To have the record accredited, Leo needed to come out of the water without showing any signs of decompression sickness and/or overexpansion injuries, and he needed to get back on the boat on his own. He was successful at both of these feats, thus setting a new Guinness World Record.
By setting this record, Leo wants to remind people with disabilities to never give up or lose hope and to encourage them to make their dreams come true.
CONTACT LEO MORALES: For any questions regarding this World record and its logistics please communicate directly with Leo Morales at +521/9841553535 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org or with German Yanez at +521/9871137044 or by email email@example.com.
Contact SDI TDI and ERDI
If you would like more information, please contact:
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.