Escaping Gravity: Diveheart in Depth
Hinsdale Magazine February 2020

It’s estimated that less than 1.2% of Americans participate in scuba diving. Among this elite group of underwater adventurers is Matt Wagstaff. The 28-year old resident of New Lenox was born with cerebral palsy. As a result, he has limited mobility, depending on a wheelchair, crutches, or walker to help him get around on land. Underwater, however, Matt moves effortlessly, much like his able-bodied friends and family. “When diving, it’s like gravity doesn’t exist, and he doesn’t have to worry about falling,” said his father, Scott Wagstaff.

Matt is a participant with Diveheart. The 501(c)3 non-profit organization provides scuba diving instruction and opportunities to children and adults with disabilities and wounded veterans. Diveheart’s office is located in Downers Grove, and the organization has chapters around the world.

Matt and his family first learned about Diveheart in 2013 when Matt was attending the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education (ICRE) in Chicago. Scott, who was a scuba diver in high school, was excited by the opportunity available to his son. While Matt was initially reluctant, he eventually tried diving and became enthralled. Matt’s brother Jacob also learned to scuba dive through Diveheart, and the three Wagstaff men are now scuba-certified, and enjoy the activity together. In addition to diving in area pools, the Wagstaffs have traveled with Diveheart to dive in Key Largo. They’ve subsequently gone to Cozumel, Mexico twice, where they went diving with the Diveheart-trained local team at Dive Paradise.

“Matt now identifies himself as a scuba diver and is very proud of this skill. Of course, seeing the amazing underwater world is thrilling for anyone who dives and is something you can only experience through scuba diving,” said Scott. He added, “Matt really enjoys the experience of diving. What I think is more important to him though, is his pride in overcoming his initial fear and learning a skill that most people never experience.”

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