Disabled divers get help from students

Stay-Focused intern Keanu Oliver, standing, assists first-time diver, Josh Hipps, before a dive.

Two Caymanian students spent part of their summer helping disabled teens learn to dive.

Keanu Oliver, 17, and Emily Whittaker, 15, students at Clifton Hunter High School, joined the Stay-Focused diver certification program as interns.

As well as learning to dive for the first time themselves, the pair assisted visiting teens in the program.

Ryan Chalmers, director of programs for the nonprofit organization which has certified 86 teens and young adults with physical disabilities since its inception in 2004, said the internship program was designed as a way of bringing young Caymanians into the fold.

Stay-Focused programs director Ryan Chalmers, left, with Caymanian interns Emily Whittaker and Keanu Oliver.
Stay-Focused programs director Ryan Chalmers, left, with Caymanian interns Emily Whittaker and Keanu Oliver.

He said, “The interns room with one of the participants and that is where they really get to learn about disabilities.

“That is something we want to bring here on island. We want to show that people with disabilities are just the same as them. All they have to do is adapt.”

Keanu said learning to dive and working with disabled youngsters had been an eye opening experience.

“My buddy was in a car accident and had lost movement in his legs. He was in therapy to get him to move again. He was awesome. He had a great personality and such a cheery spirit. It was amazing.”

Emily said she had been nervous to learn to dive but was inspired by the bravery of the disabled teens.

“It is funny because I am the one that lives on an island, but when we first went snorkeling I was really anxious. I saw the rest of the kids so excited and I thought I don’t need to be scared. I can do it as well.”

She said sharing a room with a girl of her age who was in a wheelchair gave her a new appreciation for the challenges disabled people face.

“I think all the disabled kids in Cayman should get involved in the program – not only would they learn how to dive, but they would learn things they didn’t know about themselves.”

Keanu said his first experience of diving in Cayman was amazing. “It was my first time seeing the reef and the coral. It was beautiful, iconic.”

For the disabled divers, he said, “It was like weightlessness. Under water we were all on the same level. They loved it. One of the group said it was the most difficult but gratifying experience of his life.”