Sportforce - PADI Scuba Diving Instructor Thailand, originally uploaded by oneworld365.
Tony Thomas gets a big payoff for helping disabled people, including military veterans, scuba dive in the Caribbean Sea.
No, it's not monetary. It's better than that, according to the Goodyear marketing group executive.
"You look at their faces when they come out of the water, and they are grinning from ear to ear, said Thomas, who in June will be traveling to Cayman Brac, one of the Cayman Islands, for the third time as a member of the Dive Pirates Foundation.
"I think the attraction for these folks is that it gives them a sense of mobility, provided by the feeling of weightlessness in the underwater environment, Thomas said. "I think even for the people confined to wheelchairs, and the paraplegics and quadriplegics, they can have that sense of freedom.
Thomas has been part of the nonprofit organization for 21/2 years. Dive Pirates started as a social club for divers and in 2003 began supporting adaptive diving for the disabled. In 2004, the Houston chapter began focusing on helping returning Iraqi vets who were amputees as a result of wounds received in combat.
The group took such veterans and their able-bodied dive buddies to Cayman Brac in 2005. Since then the nonprofit foundation was formed and then expanded into a national organization that trains adaptive diving instructors and teaches scuba to as many injured veterans as possible. Thomas said about 15-20 disabled people, roughly a third to half of them veterans, took part in the Caribbean event last year.
A diving specialty
Thomaswho has spent nearly 26 years with Goodyear and serves as category planning manager for winter tires, based in Akronis one of the divers who holds specialty certification to work as a dive buddy for the disabled divers. Scuba divers are taught to dive in buddy pairs, and are prepared to help their partner with any problems underwater or in an emergency. Adaptive Scuba Diving with a disabled person takes that concept several steps further.
"You're trained on how to get the person out of a wheelchair, geared up and into the water, he said. How much the dive buddy has to do depends on the diver's level of disability.
Thomas said with the quadriplegics, for example, there are two divers working with the disabled diver: one to provide propulsion, the other to control buoyancy. "Essentially, one person grabs the diver's tank and swims through the water, and since he doesn't have the use of hands, the other diver controls the buoyancy.
Good buoyancy control is essential to good diving, and can be a problem for a beginning diver or someone who hasn't been diving regularly. Controlling your own and another's buoyancy takes some training and skill, Thomas said.
All the disabled divers are trained, with their instruction tailored to their particular disability, Thomas said. At Cayman Brac, the divers mostly go down to about 40-60 feet, although he said they did hit 80 feet at one point.
Thomas took up diving when he was working in Thailand for Goodyear in 2001. He was hanging around the beach in Phuket, one of the world's most-renown scuba diving locations, but "always thought diving was kind of scary. The owners of a dive shop offered to train him, and if he didn't like diving, there would be no charge.
Once in the water, he was hooked. To date, Thomas has done 378 dives, often in Thailand but also throughout the Caribbean, including Bonaire, the Caymans and the Bahamas.
He became acquainted with Dive Pirates through a friend, underwater photographer David Haas, and a director of the foundation, Dave Kuhary of Cleveland.
Thomas said he expects as many as 80 people to participate in this year's event at Cayman Brac. The Dive Pirate Foundation funds the disabled divers' trip, and the adaptive dive buddies pay their own way. The group stays at the Brac Reef Beach Resortwhich was destroyed by Hurricane Paloma in November 2008, but since rebuiltand the staff bends over backward to help the divers.
Thomas said one of the most rewarding things he's seen with Dive Pirates is how the program brings families together.
For example, a couple of years ago he became acquainted with a veteran who'd lost a limb in Iraq and was diving for the first time. "His dad got certified as his buddy. Then his two brothers showed up and got certified as well. Now they all dive, and will participate in the sport together beyond the Dive Pirates annual event.
Thomas gets a lot of satisfaction from participating with Dive Pirates. "Life can throw you a curve, he said. With Dive Pirates, "I can do something that makes a difference.
"Diving in to help the vets; Goodyear's Thomas part of effort to teach scuba to war disabled." Rubber & Plastics News 22 Feb. 2010: 6. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 4 Sept. 2010.
Gale Document Number:A219846484
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.