Interns dive in to raise awareness

Two local teens learn to dive along with youngsters with disabilities

Two local students are learning how to scuba dive alongside a group of teens with disabilities, as part of Stay-Focused’s new initiative to raise awareness of kids with disabilities in the Cayman Islands. 

The charity, which gives young disabled people the opportunity to become certified divers, aims to certify 10 disabled divers over the next few weeks.  

“We want to bring awareness of persons with disabilities in Cayman, and this is a really good way for us to do it,” said Stay-Focused founder Roger Muller, who was inspired to start the program in 2004 after diving in Cayman with his paraplegic brother, Nobel Prize recipient Bobby Muller. 

The two local interns, Trent Jackson and Ricardo Martinez, will give a presentation about what they learned to their classmates at Clifton Hunter High School.  

“Two young Caymanians [will get] to spend a week learning to dive, and learning about the challenges faced by young people with disabilities,” said Muller. 

Over the past 11 years, Stay-Focused has certified 72 teens with disabilities as scuba divers, including one Caymanian. 

“We’ve had one and she was great. We’re pretty well known in Cayman … but we haven’t found another one,” said Muller. 

He explained that sometimes it is difficult to find kids who are able to meet both the physical and mental requirements of the certification.  

Benefits of diving 

The weightless atmosphere of the water allows people with disabilities to move freely without any physical limitations. 

Ryan Chalmers, senior mentor of Stay-Focused and a Paralympian, has been a part of the organization for the past 10 years. In 2013, Chalmers performed the incredible feat of “Pushing Across America” in his high-tech wheelchair to raise funds and awareness for Stay-Focused. The 71-day marathon of more than 3,000 miles began in Los Angeles and terminated in Central Park in New York City. 

For Chalmers, who was born with spina bifida, scuba diving has become a great liberator. “It is the one sport that I don’t need adaptive equipment. I can go on a dive boat with 10 people I don’t know, and when someone comes up to talk to me, they don’t ask me about my disability,” said Chalmers, who became certified as a dive master in 2012. 

“What’s great for me is that freedom that we have. I’m not in my wheelchair, so it’s great for mobility and stretching, and you have that freedom underneath that water,” he added. 

Chalmers said he loves seeing the vast change in the kids over the course of just one week.  

“They may come in and be quiet, but by the end of it, they are all talking to each other, having a good time, [and] setting new goals,” he explained. “There’s such a big impact on these kids, and it’s only a week-long program.” 

He said he loves seeing the kids dive in the ocean for the first time. “They see a turtle or a fish, and they’ve never been scuba diving, so they’re all just smiles,” he said. “They are so happy to be under the water.” 

He said he was excited for the non-disabled interns to join this year.  

“It’s going to be a great experience for them, and all the participants going forward. It’s good for everybody … They’ll be great ambassadors for this program and will learn a lot along on the way, getting certified with people with disabilities, so it’s really special for them and for us.” 

Clifton Hunter student Trent Jackson, 14, said, “It’s really been fun. I met new people, and we get to dive. I’m excited to get in the water.” 

Chalmers is currently training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil. He will join the two interns to give a presentation at their school about kids with disabilities when he visits on Feb. 28 to push his racing chair around the entire island for “Push Across Cayman.” 

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