by Travis Marshall, ScubaDiving.com
18 August 2016

Jim Elliott of Diveheart | Disabled Scuba Diver Advocate

Jim Elliott spent a lot of time in Veterans Administration hospitals, growing up the son of a disabled veteran. Then his oldest daughter was born blind, which inspired him to become a skiing instructor to the blind in the 1980s. Combine that with a long history of service with groups like the Shriners and Lions Club, and a passion for scuba diving ignited in college, and it’s not surprising that Elliott went on to start Diveheart, one of the world’s largest ­nonprofit organizations dedicated to ­introducing disabled children, adults and veterans to the sport of diving.

Founder of Diveheart, a non-profit dive-training agency for adaptive scuba diving, Jim Elliott has dedicated his life to using scuba diving to benefit medical conditions.
Photo By Taylor Castle

Elliott had risen to the ­upper echelons of the media industry in Chicago, working with the Chicago Tribune and launching the TV station CLTV. But he left it all behind, along with a six-figure salary, to helm his volunteer organization. “I don’t draw a ­salary ­doing this,” he says. “But I can’t imagine going back now.”

“People with multiple sclerosis have experienced pain relief. We had divers with PTSD whose symptoms were eliminated.”
Jim Elliott, Diveheart Founder

Today, Elliott has turned Diveheart into a dive-training agency in its own right, with its adaptive scuba-training program. “We work with all the dive agencies to teach adaptive ­certifications,” Elliott says. He is passionate about helping researchers study how scuba diving and zero-­gravity therapy can benefit a wide range of medical conditions.

“We did a pilot study in the Caymans and found that, at 66 feet, we get a boost of ­serotonin that helps with pain management,” Elliott says. “People with multiple sclerosis have experienced pain relief. We had divers with PTSD whose symptoms were eliminated. And pressure therapy might even help with autism.”

Elliott remains hands-on, traveling frequently to ­offer introductory programs, and organizing more disabled ­diving trips than any other ­organization.

One of his favorites was working with Korean War veteran Gabe Spataro, who helped bring the Christ of the Deep statue to Key Largo but had never dived it. Spataro, 81, had become blind and was being treated at a VA hospital. “I called up Rainbow Reef Dive Center — they cleared eight spots on a boat and got us out there.”

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