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Feeling Free and Flying Underwater
by Shelly White

 Scuba diving?  Really?  I have to see it to believe it!!


The Cody Unser First Step Organization's, Scuba Adventure, touched down in Hershey, PA.  Friends of mine at Lebanon Valley College, told me about this opportunity, to learn more about scuba diving for those with disabilities.  Never in a million years was I going to try it, but I was curious to check it out.  Sunday morning, we arrived at the sports center at LVC and met my favorite water woman, Mary Gardner (Aquatics Director).  I watched the divers in the pool, again thinking, not me.  Rob Dellar, Rick Allwein, and I were invited to scuba on Tuesday, June 2nd.  It would have been neat to go and watch, however I had school and didn’t think I could take off. 


Monday, I was given the OK to take off from school (Thanks Elaine!!).  After pulling some strings at home, getting a doctors ok, and Todd’s work being generous, too…we were Hershey bound.   Just down the road I realized that I forgot my camera, however we didn’t go back because I wasn’t going in. 


We pulled into the Hershey pool (left the bags in the van…I wasn’t going in) and went inside.  Rob was there, ready to go.  We gave Michelle our paperwork (I’m not sure why…I wasn’t going in) and watched the dive instructors bring in their gear, plus the news reporters were getting set up.  As we moved to the opposite side of the pool, I talked to Cody & Beaux and they explained this is a once in a life time opportunity and I should give it a try.  The divers were trained, doctors from Johns Hopkins were there, and it was a perfectly controlled environment to try it out. So I changed my mind, I would just put on the wet suit, but I wasn’t going in. 


All of the dive instructors and eager participants gathered around for a meeting.  Cody pulled up beside me and leaned on the arm of my chair, now I had to stay put.  A wonderful instructor named Jim, from Diveheart, came over and began trying different masks on my face.  He certainly knew what he was talking about and he was trying to get a feel for the kinds of signals I would be able to give him once I was in the water.  So, I was feeling better…wait, who am I kidding?...I still wasn’t planning on going in the water.


Mary Gardner gave me an approving head shake. Gail had my wetsuit and the three of us proceeded to the locker room to get into the wet suit.  Those of you who have worked with quadriplegics know that most of us are pretty dependent on caregivers to assist in dressing, etc.  I laughed inside just picturing these ladies trying to shove my body into this wet suit.  Go ahead, laugh, it is funny.  Honestly, it went super smooth, so smooth that I was back up to the pool in 10 minutes.  My heart was racing so fast!  They put on the boots to protect my feet.  The next few things happened so fast it was a blur.  Todd & Gail transferred me onto the chairlift at the pool.  I barked out orders, someone must be touching me at all times.  The chair spun, it lowered into the water and ready or not, I was in.  My body was shaking, I was so nervous, plus this new instructor had a hold of me.  I was hoping he heard the rule, never let go. 


The water was cool on my face and it went inside my suit at the top.  My brain started the internal clock, counting down the time until I was freezing.  I soon had so many other things to think about I forgot about freezing for awhile.  Very quickly my goggles went on and Todd was there, helping.  Jim, my instructor, taught me to clear my ears and breathe with the regulator.  Next, I went under the water.  I needed up right away because it felt weird to be breathing air in and out of my mouth and not my nose. Jim said that was perfectly normal.  Each step I took, he would encourage me and tell me how good I was doing.  This made me feel empowered, so I would push myself a little more each time.  My trust in Jim developed quickly and I really felt like he understood me.  Maybe that's because when he worked with me he didn't see limitations, he saw possibility.  


This whole experience was like an emotional roller coaster, bringing out emotions that I seldom experience simultaneously. While I was going through these amazing transformations, the news crew was watching it all unfold.


Todd used the other regulator and we went underwater together and Jim took pictures.  Jim had me all the way to the deep end.  Remember, I wasn’t getting in.  An amazing amount of trust needed to happen to feel safe and confident to do what I was doing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t swim around, that would have to wait until the next time.  My arms were frozen in the OK position and I just looked around.  Really, I didn’t even move my head much either, just my eyes.  I just let Jim hang onto me and take me on an incredible adventure.  Once I was finished…I was a bit cold and once again my body was shaking.  This time, I wasn't nervous, I was exhilarated and overcome with emotion from my accomplishment.  I wish everyone has a chance experience this feeling in their lifetime. 


The news crews were eager to talk to all of us about our experience.  It sure is hard to explain how I was feeling with words.  I did my best, but tears of accomplishment and tears of happiness poured out under that scuba mask.  I went into that water and in some way, I came out a slightly different person.  I DID IT!  I am so glad I went into that water.  Hopefully, I will have another opportunity to try it again. 


Since then, there has not been a day that has passed that I have not looked at the pictures, reliving this extraordinary memory!


        Logo diveheart 
My scuba instructor and new friend, Jim Elliot.  Jim has dedicated his life to bringing scuba to those with disabilities and the name of his organization tells all.  DIVEHEART, compasionate individuals, putting their heart and soul into helping others experience this world where there are no limitations.  Thank you for touching so many lives and enabling people to feel free and to fly!
When you visit this site, please take some time to look at the pictures, testimonials, and newsletters.  They will touch your heart! 

Click here to visit Jim's organization, www.diveheart.com


Shelly and Todd

To love what you do and feel that it matters -- how could anything be more fun?"