The summer of 1998 was full of excitement and eager anticipation for Tiffany Van Meerbeke. She had just graduated from Livermore High and was preparing for her first year of college. She was also training for the college swim team. After four years of 3 to 4 hours a day in the pool she was ready and looking forward to her first year at Chico State. All this was cut short when the car she was driving was hit and Tiffany ended up in the hospital instead of a college dorm. As an avid swimmer she had always dreamed of someday trying her hand at scuba diving. With the help of the Adaptive Scuba Network (ASN) team from Napa California, Tiffany and others with disabilities have an opportunity to realize what had formerly seemed like an unattainable dream.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Roger Haseltine and Jackie Danielsson, the founders of Adaptive Scuba Network, and all the dedicated volunteers, Tiffany and other people with disabilities are becoming certified scuba divers. Jackie said, “The road to setting up a program like this is a challenging one but the minute you talk with people such as Tiffany you know that it is all worth it! We have had a lot of help from the Spinal Cord Injury Network of Napa, and without the donation of the pool time from Synergy Wellness Center we would not have a program up and running today. I had seen Diveheart on the internet and over the span of about two years Jim Elliot and I became very good friends and I wanted to help in any way I could. Jim gave us all the tools we needed to get started including his visit to Napa Valley where we were Diveheart trained and certified as Handicapped Scuba Association (HAS) Instructors and Divebuddies.”
Diveheart, founded by Jim Elliott in 2001, is an Illinois-based nonprofit group that promotes scuba diving therapy. As Jim tells it, “The purpose of Diveheart is to provide and support educational SCUBA diving and snorkeling experience programs that are open to any disabled child, adult, or veteran, with the hope of providing both physical and psychological therapeutic value to that person.” Diveheart certifies instructors and divebuddies to work with divers who are blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or have brain injuries. “It’s a real fulfilling feeling when you look at these young people swimming around with their buddies. You just know that you have changed perhaps a little bit of their lives.”
Since the road to program development is a tough one, Jackie and Roger told me that they have decided to help others who wish to start Adaptive Scuba programs. “Diveheart is doing an incredible job getting the word out, training, and getting support for research. Jim lives and breathes Adaptive Scuba so we decided the way we can help Diveheart is to do an after-care of sorts. Once Jim has trained divers to be instructors and divebuddies, we will come in and help develop their programs. We have a website in development www.adaptivescuba.org that will encompass all of our programs. It will provide a chat-room for each group. We will have adaptive divers connecting with other adaptive divers around the world to share their experiences with one another. We will maintain a directory of certified programs and we will also have a forum for instructors and divebuddies to reach out to each other, share tips and perhaps plan travel together as a group to make it more affordable.”
The Adaptive Scuba Network has multiple programs depending on the individuals needs:
People with Disabilities – this includes adults with just about any disability including the blind, deaf, paraplegics, quadriplegics, and people with traumatic brain injuries.
Veterans – ASN is working with a group called The Pathway Home (www.thepathwayhome.org). The Pathway Home program is a residential recovery program specifically created for, and dedicated to serve our Nation’s ‘New Warriors’ who have served our Nation’s Global War on Terror. These dedicated men and women have survived the stresses of war, but find themselves experiencing problems that are getting in the way of functioning at their top form. Scuba diving allows our wounded soldiers to find peace in their own breathing and to experience a new and challenging sport. In most cases these men and women are certified through the PADI Open Water program but in cases where that is not possible HSA certification is available.
Children – Diveheart works closely with the Shriners in Illinois, and while Jim was here ASN met with the Shriners Hospital in Sacramento. They hope to begin their program by the end of the year and to pilot a program with the help of Diveheart for children in the burn unit. The program includes children with all disabilities. ASN is planning on expanding the childrens program to include obesity and also working with the Special Olympics.
Divebuddy Training – This is a 5 day class open to all certified divers with twelve or more dives who would like to become a Divebuddy for people with disabilities.
Friends and Family – Classes and PADI certification courses are available for family and friends who wish to continue on to become divebuddies.
The Adaptive Scuba Network is a nonprofit organization. Fundraising goes toward the purchase of books, certifications, adaptive dive equipment, and making dreams come true. If you would like to contribute time, dive gear, money, or silent auction/raffle donations please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for Tiffany – she has had two discover scuba sessions with the Adaptive Scuba Network team – the goal is to continue her training and take her to realize her dream of scuba diving somewhere warm and tropical. To follow Tiffany’s and others dreams – check their website www.adaptivescuba.org where they will be documenting each divers progress towards realizing their scuba diving dreams.
A short film on Tiffany and others can be seen on You Tube – search “Adaptive Scuba Network”.
Written by: Penny Silva Cannon with assistance from Jackie Danielsson
Photos by: Steve Lavoy, Cristi Stadelhofer and Mike Stratton