I was able to get my open water scuba certification done in Key West, and knew I had found a new passion. I came back home to the Panhandle; and, as usual, life got busy. I knew I wanted to get involved with the local dive community, however it found me. While attending the wall signing for Bobby Dove’s new home, I mentioned I was just certified. Bobby reached out to me with Rick Hayes shortly after, and asked if I wanted to go out that weekend. I had already made plans, and was heading out of town again; but wanted to link up as soon as I got back. Rick said he would be out of town, but would set me up with Jason; who would check me over in the pool, and see what we had previously come up with in the way of adaptations.
I arrived at Emerald Coast Scuba, and was immediately greeted by the amazing Anna smiling ear to ear—so excited that I was there. Jason came out and introduced himself, and it turns out that we were stationed in the same unit in Alaska and didn’t know it. I am sure we had mutual friends, as it always happens. We chatted for a little while, and Jason got a feel for what we would need for my legs—as I told him how we had, after several days in the pool, determined a good setup using bungees or straps.
We made our way through the shop, and I was introduced to Tom, Sean, and a few of the other dive masters who were just coming in from a trip. Everyone was very welcoming and excited to see me there. Jason began formulating a plan for equipment that he wanted to put together, and we made our way to the pool. I went over with Jason the best way to get myself seated at the edge and how to don the equipment best. We went over the plan, then executed. Once I was fitted and adjusted, we made our way to the bottom of the pool to check out my basic watermanship skills, such as clear my mask. And breathing from my secondary and alternate air sources. Once Jason saw I could sit at the bottom and complete these tasks, we started to tweak the gear. Anna grabbed a pair of swim gloves which helped me move with a little more glide. We sized the BC, and tried a couple of different styles as well as different masks.
Jason felt comfortable on my checkout, and made some notes of what we would need for my next open water dive. We were going to complete my Nitrox Certification. I continued to get some bubble therapy in the pool; and Anna, Jason, and Pat helped lift me out of the pool—and we did a debriefing. Everyone was pleased, and Jason was excited to get me out on the first thing they could get in the Gulf—after seeing how well I felt and he felt with it.
The several hours I ended up spending there that afternoon getting to know everyone, and them getting to know me, I realized I had found my dive family. It really truly felt like a home and a family to me with everyone so willing to help get me in the water and experience freedom and independence outside of my wheelchair—the ability to move when and where I want to move. Those who have never lost this will never truly understand the level of freedom that diving brings physically and mentally. Emerald Coast Scuba and Task Force Poseidon were ecstatic to help me attain this again.