A team which includes Stay Focused, Sunrise Centre and Sunset Divers, assisted Special Olympian Andrew Smilley with his first scuba diving experience on Tuesday, 8 December at the Sunset House.
Andrew is best known for his feats in special Olympic swimming competitions and the many medals he has won in various fly and freestyle races.
According President and Founder of Stay Focused Roger Muller, ‘Andrew previously participated in a pool dive with 12 other disabled persons and was so comfortable that the decision to take him to the next level was made.’
Stay Focused is a non-profit organisation that seeks to build awareness for the potential of people with disabilities.
Mr. Muller said Stay Focused accomplishes this by giving these individuals an opportunity to experience the wonder and adventure of diving.
Before the dive, the 19-year-old Andrew told the Caymanian Compass he was ‘feeling good and excited’.
The session began with a pool dive to acclimate the young man to dive protocol and signals, as well as familiarise him with the technique of clearing his ears of pressure associated with descent to deeper depths.
Because of inherent difficulties experienced by some with certain disabilities, the academic part of the certification process can be overlooked and instead subjects do their dives in confined areas with special supervision.
However, Andrew displayed such poise during the exercise that he was able to go outside the shallow lagoon behind the Sunset House and venture into the ocean.
Though Roger Muller is a native New Yorker, Stay Focused conducts all of its operations in the Cayman Islands. The president said he chose Cayman because of the warm waters, which is good for those with circulatory conditions and the fact that these are the most beautiful waters in the world.
Mr. Muller said even when he has a group of people overseas; he still brings them to the Cayman Islands.
Most recently, the programme was instrumental in 38 people from overseas and one from Cayman receiving diving certifications.
Mr. Muller’s brother is a paraplegic who is certified to dive and upon seeing his sibling’s reaction to being out of a wheel chair and in the water, he knew it was something he wanted to offer to others with disabilities.
Sunset Divers instructor Jaxx Kinsel supervised Andrew’s dive and briefed him before taking him into the water.
The diving gear and training was provided at no cost, and Mr. Muller said he wanted to offer his gratitude to Sunset House.
‘We are so pleased with Andrew and the progress he has made,’ Sunrise Centre Adaptive Living Specialist Mary Fortney said. ‘He has shown much dedication and made remarkable strides in all his endeavours, most recently securing a job with Red Sail Sports.’