The University of Miami SCUBA Club may be gearing up to lend a helping hand to students with disabilities by training them and then volunteering as their dive buddies.
Branson Rector is the manager of the Lockwood Memorial Dive Program, which helps people with disabilities become certified, and trains able-bodied divers for a buddy program. He met with club members Sept. 10 and invited them to participate.
Rick Thompson, a member of SCUBA’s executive board, is excited about the prospects this training will create for club membership.
“We’ve been approached by interested UM students with various disabilities who we’ve had difficulty accommodating because we aren’t equipped to help them dive safely,” he said. “With this training, the entire UM community, no matter their ability, will have the ability to get out and dive.”
The SCUBA Club is part of the Wellness Center’s club sports program and is consistently one of the largest clubs on campus. The organization averages about 300 graduate and undergraduate students every semester, giving members the opportunity to go on discounted dives nearly every weekend. Outside training, such as the Lockwood program, is open to any member who is interested.
Rector said that while many disabilities make it extremely difficult to dive alone, having one or two trained able-bodied divers allows anyone to access the underwater realm and its therapeutic effects.
“The enemy is gravity,” he said.
However, the weightlessness of the underwater world allows the so-called adaptive divers to escape this enemy, giving them the opportunity to stretch out their entire bodies and enjoy increased mobility.
“You can just go out there and be free,” said Larry Jones, one of the adaptive divers that Rector has worked with.
Rector also emphasizes that diving gives more than just a weightless environment; it gives adaptive divers a goal to work toward and a confidence boost once they reach it.
“[Underwater] they’re no longer that kid in a wheelchair. They’re a SCUBA diver,” he said.
The Lockwood program is part of Shake-A-Leg Miami, an organization devoted to making water sports like swimming, kayaking and diving available to people with economic, physical or developmental disabilities.
UM SCUBA club members who are trained as buddy divers will be able to give back to their community by volunteering regularly for the Lockwood program, which gives scholarships for both adaptive- and buddy-divers to get trained by the Handicap Scuba Association. The Lockwood program conducts buddy diver training every other month in Pompano Beach, Fla.
But if there is enough interest among UM SCUBA Club members, a special session may be held at the campus pool to better suit students’ schedules. The session would include a classroom portion, where students learn about the physiology of various disabilities, and two days of training in the pool.
A large part of the pool time will be devoted to empathy training. During these sessions, the UM divers will switch off having their arms or legs bound, while the other divers assist them. This gives the students an accurate representation of challenges an adaptive diver faces.
Visit shakealegmiami.org or email the UM SCUBA Club at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about becoming trained and certified as an adaptive- or buddy- diver.