Group teaches scuba divers with disabilities

November 28, 2010 (NAPERVILLE, Ill.)

Jim Elliott has been working with divers with disabilities since 1997.

"There's a very, very short learning curve in scuba diving with for people with disabilities and without disabilities," said Elliot.

In 2001, he started a organization called Diveheart.

"Diveheart is a non profit whose mission is to build confidence and independence in children, adults and veterans with disabilities through the activity of scuba diving," said Elliot. "We serve all disabilities. Kids with autism and Down syndrome, the vets coming back with traumatic brain injuries, amputations it doesn't matter. The only thing that keeps you from diving is pressure related illnesses, open wounds and people with seizures can't go deep."

Although Diveheart is based in Chicago, they are a world leader in adaptive scuba training.

"We've started up programs in China, in Australia and all over the Caribbean," said Elliot.

Stephanie Dominici, 22, has been diving for five years.

"I scuba dive because Jim brought me into the wonderful world of scuba diving. He introduced me at Shriner's, that's where I first discover scuba and fell in love with it. I was just like everybody else, being in the water is something I loved," said Dominici.

Stephanie was diagnosed with polio at 6 months and wears a brace on her right leg.

"We also train instructors and divers all over the world to help train them so they can work with people with disabilities for example Robert will need two buddies. Just in case something happens to one of his buddies, he has a back up kind of," said Dominici.

Robert Sagartz has a spinal cord injury and also had a stroke. He is 23 years old.

"On land I don't walk, but underwater I fly," said Sagartz. "I never considered it before like before I found out about Diveheart I mean I always loved swimming but I never thought about actually becoming a scuba diver."

Ashley Hoffman has been in the program for three years. She is 22 years old and has cerebral palsy.

"It just makes me feel like I'm not trapped inside my body anymore like I've been freed from a cage and that I'm equal and I can I'm just like everybody else I don't see my disability. I don't see the things I can't do when I'm underwater," said Hoffman.

Many of Diveheart divers have done scuba diving in Key Largo and Cozumel. Training takes place in at the Naperville's Holiday Inn.

"So if you look at our website and look at he calendar, just look for an open discover scuba and and we'll introduce to scuba diving for free," said Elliot.

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