I had the exciting opportunity to learn to SCUBA dive in the Cayman Islands with a great nonprofit organization called Stay-Focused. The mission of Stay-Focused is to help disabled teens and young adults gain confidence, develop leadership skills, and become more independent through learning to SCUBA dive. I first learned about Stay-Focused from my fiancé who is a Director with the organization, so even though I am not a teenager or a young adult, I got to participate in the program to learn more about the organization that my fiancé has helped to run for more than 15 years.
When I arrived in Grand Cayman, I met the five disabled students I would be learning to dive with, as well as our Stay-Focused mentor, Emma. Emma had previously gone through the program and was there to help guide us and support us as we learned. After we all met, we went to dinner and learned about the week ahead of us. The first two days consisted of some classroom time to learn about the basics of diving, then learning how to put our dive equipment together, then learning how to do basic skills in the hotel pool. After we mastered basic skills in the pool (including taking our masks off under water which was the hardest part for me!), we were off to dive in the ocean!
On our third day we went to Sunset House which is a dive center where people can partake in shore dives. A shore dive is when a person dives from the land instead of diving from a boat. After completing some basic skills in the shallow water, we were off on our very first dive! I’ll admit, I was actually pretty nervous for my first dive. Even with two days of pool training beforehand, diving in the ocean for the first time can be scary! Even though we were only able to go 40 feet deep for our diving certification, 40 feet is much deeper than the hotel pool! Our first dive took about 45 minutes and I don’t think I remember anything about it except that I was breathing way too deep and fast because I was nervous and I was afraid that I would never be a good SCUBA diver. By the time we got back to shore, I was grateful to be back on land and really scared of going on the second dive.
However, once we got on land, my SCUBA buddies were all excited and my instructors were telling me I did a great job even though I thought I did terrible. My fiancé, who is a Dive Master (which basically means he’s a rockstar diver) said he could tell I was nervous, but that I did well. Emma, our mentor, told me she was nervous when she started diving in the ocean, but that it got better for her and it would for me too. After that, I felt a bit better, and the second dive I felt a lot more confident.
The next two days we did boat dives, and by the time I got to my fourth dive I stopped feeling nervous and started looking forward to getting underwater to explore the sea. I got to see beautiful coral, super cute puffer fish, a stingray, lobster, jellyfish, barracudas, tons of vibrant fish, and I even got to explore sunken ships!
Even though I am not a teenager, I definitely feel like I grew over the week and became a lot more confident. I also got to watch my diving buddies become more confident too, which was a really great experience. The best part was that Stay-Focused ensures that disabled youth not only get to learn to SCUBA dive from SCUBA instructors, but also from other disabled people who are SCUBA certified. Being able to see other people with disabilities confidently SCUBA dive definitely made a difference for me because I was able to see someone like me being successful at something that I thought was really difficult and scary. I can see how Stay-Focused helps teens and young adults become more confident, more independent, and develop leadership skills because learning to SCUBA dive really does push your limits and helps you to want to set even higher goals for yourself. Now that I’m a certified SCUBA diver, I can’t wait to get back out there and explore the sea!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.