Stay Focused hosts biggest group

Stay Focused recently played host
to its biggest group yet this summer. The organisation, which aims to introduce
teens and young adults with disabilities to the wonders of scuba diving, hosted
a group of eight divers last week.

The group included five first-time
visitors to the programme, as well as two returning participants and local
Special Olympian Andrew Smilley.

According to Roger Muller, founder
and president of Stay Focused, the organisation started its work in 2003.

“The motivating force was really my
older brother Bobby who’s a paraplegic. He’s a Marine Corps combat veteran, so
he uses a wheelchair, and has been in a wheelchair a long time. He got
certified in Jamaica late in life, so I felt compelled to get certified,” said
Mr. Muller.

After he became certified and saw
the freedom his brother enjoyed while diving, he decided to start an
organisation that would allow teens and young adults in wheelchairs and with
other disabilities to experience the same freedom.

“Scuba diving is the one sport
where they are really unaware of the disability once they are in the water. For
them I think that it is empowering and it gives them a tremendous sense of
freedom,” said Mr. Muller.

One of the first-time participants
in the programme was US Paralympic gold medallist Amanda McGrory. As winner of
a gold medal, a silver medal and two bronze medals at the 2009 Paralympics in
Beijing, as well as the winner of the ladies’ wheelchair division in the 2009
London Marathon, Ms McGrory is a highly accomplished athlete. This was her
first opportunity to experience scuba diving and Ms McGrory was very excited
about the prospect.

“I was excited before I got down
here, and I think that everything I’ve done so far has just made me more
excited to get in the water today. We did some of our skills in the pool for
the past three days and then yesterday we went off the beach near our hotel
into the water a little bit, maybe six to eight feet, but I thought it was
pretty exciting, so I can’t even imagine what this will be like,” she said
before her first dive off Sunset House.

Brian Siemann, another accomplished
wheelchair athlete, is a Stay Focused veteran, who has been coming to Cayman
since 2006.

“I love coming down to Cayman. It’s
beautiful, the diving’s amazing and I have so much fun when I’m down here. The
water is crystal clear and it’s so warm that I feel I’m spoilt whenever I come
down here. I don’t want to go diving anywhere else because I don’t think anything
can compare to it,” he said.

According to Mr. Siemann, the
programme has had a very positive impact on his life.

“It’s great for raising awareness
on disability and it really helped me and I think it helps a lot of the
participants realise their full potential and what they can do. It’s something
I never thought I’d be able to do and now that I know that I can do it, it is
something that I will never stop doing for the rest of my life,” he said.

As a veteran of the programme, Mr.
Siemann is keen to help newcomers to Stay Focused experience the wonders of
diving.

“I really enjoy coming back down
here, and just being a part of the programme and just helping other first time
divers have the same great experience I’ve had with Stay-Focused. It’s such a
great programme and I love helping out and just imparting whatever knowledge
and wisdom I can on the people who are coming down,” he said.

Since its inception, the programme
has certified 46 divers, who each take part in two trips to Cayman. During the
first trip they learn the skills they need and get their certification, while
the second outing serves as a refresher and allows them to experience more of
Cayman’s underwater wonders.

For more information on the programme as well as its fundraising
efforts, visit stay-focused.org.

LOCALStayFocusedSTORY

This summer’s group was the biggest yet for Stay Focused.
Photo: Eugene Bonthuys
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