by Shawn Harrsion:
I had the honor of being part of an incredible event that took place in Chicagoland on July 11th with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and Wounded Heroes Foundation. As a 12 year veteran myself this was truly emotional as I walked around observing the 50 plus veterans participating in activities at various stations; from tennis and strength challenge to javelin throwing; but watching some of these vets experience the thrill of going underwater again, or for the first time, was awesome. Interacting with them I found out they were from all over the country; Georgia, Alabama and as far away as Hawaii, and I was amazed how far these veterans traveled to have the opportunity to come together and help each other
The session was designed as a Scuba Discovery pool experience; groups were broken into six person, rotating teams. They had underwater hockey, underwater swimming obstacles and even a bubble shooting range course set up which was really cool. For a lot of veterans the underwater world is such a relaxing place to be and this really showed with some staying down as long as one hour and asking for more. With the help of the Wounded Heroes Foundation this camp really allows veterans the opportunity to challenge themselves and some even go on to actual competitions. This event in fact has had such an impact allowing vets to connect with other disabled vets that it has filled the camp to capacity for eight years.
What is really exciting is that some of the vets will go on to get scuba certified and even some family members will as well because this is another activity they can do together. I even had some of the vets say to me, “I got certified 3or 6 years ago, I forgot how much fun it really is and I would like to get back into it”. It is comments like this that were the highlight of the event for me.
It was an awesome sight seeing over forty Scuba Diving International (SDI) members, ranging from diver up to Instructor levels, who volunteered their time to help out. Not only did we have multiple family members, fathers and sons, but one pair were both veterans from the same branch with the son ending his tour 3 weeks ago and the dad retiring. This was made possible by the team from DJ’s Scuba Locker who supplied all the necessary equipment for the event. I also would like to thank the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Wounded Heroes Foundation and all the volunteer staff who took their time making this wonderful event possible. As well as Fourth Element for donating custom back zip Thermoclines which made donning a lot easier for the vets.
I asked Dan and Cindy Howard, owners of DJ’s Scuba Locker, what inspires them on events like this, they replied, “We wanted to give back to the community of people who have given so much” and “Making a difference, one vet at a time”.