Into the Deep (Gulf Shore Life magazine)

Into the Deep

By Artis Henderson
Gulf Shore Life Magazine, August 2020

Scuba diving—with its serene setting and immersive experience—proves effective for healing body and mind.

Divers call it “the big blue”—that dark expanse you see when you’re diving underwater and facing out into the deep sea.

You might feel anxious at first, as you think about what lurks within. But then, as instructed, you start to focus on your breath. You notice the fish swimming around, the graceful movements of your own fins, the bright coral below. Before you know it, you’re focused on the here and now. Your heart race steadies and your limbs feel weightless.

For many, that’s enough of a reason to take the plunge. When people are underwater, surface distractions are eliminated, which reduces stress triggers, and the ambient pressure of the water can be soothing.

Many divers report experiencing a meditative state almost as soon as they enter the water. The slow, steady breaths required while diving calm the mind.

A 2017 report published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology noted that scuba divers experienced a marked reduction in perceived stress, similar to what’s seen when people practice meditation. A second study, released in 2017 in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, confirmed scuba’s therapeutic benefits for military veterans. Participants reported reduced anxiety, depression and insomnia, as well as improved levels of social functioning.

It’s more than just the mental wellness aspect, too—for those with disabilities, scuba therapy can be transformative, opening new worlds below the ocean’s surface.

Paul Conroy, a scuba diver since 1992, remembers taking his wife, Gloria, to the pool after her multiple sclerosis symptoms had confined her to a wheelchair. “I’d put flotation devices on her arms, and she’d just smile and drift,” Conroy says. “The weight of her body was off her, and she was free.” When Gloria passed away five years ago, Conroy decided to get back into diving. What was once a hobby became his passion. Now a senior dive master with SCUBAdventures in Naples, Conroy recently received his certification as a dive buddy to work with people with disabilities. “I know how much it made Gloria feel alive again to be in the pool,” he says. “I want to give that feeling to other people with disabilities.”

Scuba therapy has been quietly exploding in popularity. Many of the major dive organizations, like Scuba Diving International (SDI) and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), now have courses for those who want to work with adaptive divers. At Scuba Outfitters in Naples, PADI course director James Chandler is trained to work with divers whose disabilities include sight impairment, deafness, amputated limbs and quadriplegia. “The impairments someone might have on land aren’t the same when they’re in the water,” Chandler says. “They might not be able to do a lot of other sports like hang gliding or bike riding or mountain climbing, but they can go scuba diving.”

Advocates of scuba therapy say it can benefit everything from cerebral palsy to muscular dystrophy to autism, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Weightlessness allows for a range of movement not possible on the surface, while physical activity underwater offers a low-impact way to work muscles.

Organizations such as Diveheart make it their mission to connect people with the restorative powers of the water. The nonprofit’s founder and president Jim Elliot has been active in helping scientists at Cornell, Duke and Northwestern universities quantify the mental and physical benefits of diving. He has also helped get more than 5,000 people with disabilities in the water.

He finds that for people with disabilities, scuba brings a range of opportunities that can boost confidence. Being able to dive and be part of the diving community makes them feel empowered. Combine that with stress reduction and a weightless world unavailable on the surface, and it’s no wonder why many divers—both with and without disabilities—use the same expression to describe their diving experiences: “Scuba is good for the soul.”

Read the article on

Download a PDF file of this article

Ruthanne Aves Loves Giving Back

Ruthanne Aves Loves Giving Back

By Wendy Foster
Hinsdale Magazine, June 2020

It was a perfect match. Ruthanne Aves visited Diveheart’s booth at a scuba diving expo several years ago. “I had been a special education teacher at a junior high school for 34 years. When I saw what Diveheart does, I was so excited to see how I could put two loves together: diving, and working with people with disabilities,” she said.

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

Aves first started diving in 1991 but wasn’t able to pursue it actively until she retired and moved to Chicago three years ago. She became a certified dive buddy two years ago on a Diveheart trip to Cozumel, and she volunteers with the organization as often as she is able. “I am usually part of a team assigned to help a specific diver on a given dive. The number of people on a team varies depending on the amount of assistance the adaptive diver requires, she said. “It’s an incredible feeling to watch the look on the face of the adaptive diver as they become weightless and can move in ways that they may never have been able to before. Sharing that experience is so much more intense and satisfying than just diving for recreation had been for me.”

Aves does to help whenever and however she’s able, and thus, was happy to roll up her sleeves and produce masks for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I heard people were making masks, and I was excited that I could contribute in that way,” she said. She learned that Chicago’s Shirley Ryan AbilityLab was gratefully accepting masks “so that patients could have their caregivers visit and receive training to aid in their recovery. This really resonated with me,” Aves said, recalling that she’d been diving with a young man who had spent four months at the AbilityLab after a severe injury left him a person with quadriplegia. She has since sewn and donated more than 130 masks for the AbilityLab in his honor, another 30 to a Diveheart volunteer for his daughter’s wedding and is sewing more for a senior living community. She’s also made many for friends and neighbors.

Jim Elliott, president/founder of Diveheart, stated, “Ruthanne is a generous volunteer. We are so fortunate that Diveheart has benefited from her time and her kindness.”

Read full article at Hinsdale Magazine.

Jim Elliott of Diveheart (NCHPAD) – Video

Jim Elliott of Diveheart (NCHPAD) (Video)

by National Center on Health, Physical Activity & Disability (NCHPAD)
May 2011

Jim Elliott of Diveheart discusses the organization and its mission of using diving as a means of promoting health, physical activity, and inclusion of and for people with disability.

NCHPAD (National Center on Health, Physical Activity & Disability) is the nation’s premier center in promoting the health and wellness of people with disability. To view more resources and services which can benefit all ages and populations, connect with us:

Visit NCHPAD Website

Watch on Youtube

Real-life Superheroes of Scuba Diving (

The Real-Life Superheroes of Scuba Diving

by Travis Marshall,
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.”

Read complete article on

WLS-AM 890: Making Face Masks with Ruthanne Aves (Listen)

WLS-AM 890: Making Face Masks with Ruthanne Aves

The Jen Weigel Show
WLS-AM 890 Chicago

Diveheart volunteer, Ruthanne Aves, talks with Jen Weigel about making homemade masks for people who are visiting patients at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago!

News-Line: Diveheart’s Scuba Therapy Provides Many Benefits To People With Disabilities

News-Line: Diveheart’s Scuba Therapy Provides Many Benefits To People With Disabilities (April 2020)

Since 2001 Diveheart, a volunteer driven 501 (c)(3) not for profit organization based in Downers Grove, Illinois has been helping children, veterans and others with disabilities through zero gravity underwater.

Diveheart’s adaptive scuba program uses the weightless wonder of the water column to help those with physical as well as cognitive disabilities. Impressed by the nonprofit’s works, university medical centers around the country are working with Diveheart on scuba therapy research.

Early indications and anecdotal observations have shown that individuals with physical disabilities have benefited from having extended range of motion to increased latter integrity and pain relief while underwater. These benefits can last in some cases for days or weeks after their dives. Research from John Hopkins also indicates that 80% of PTSD symptoms can be alleviated during diving, if the individual can go to three atmospheres or 66 feet underwater.

In the case of autism, Diveheart participants with autism spectrum disorder were able to participate in the world’s first research on autism and scuba therapy. underwater, surface distractions and traditional triggers were eliminated while the ambient increase in pressure underwater was soothing, much like a weighted blanket or pressure vest.

The underwater environment also substituted for what many with autism experience in a sensory deprivation room.

Anecdotally, Diveheart instructors and staff have seen these benefits for years, but were reassured by many subsequent university medical center findings.

And Diveheart has found that individuals of all abilities can benefit from increase in confidence, independence and self-esteem that they gain after participating in the nonprofit’s scuba experience program or life changing scuba adventure trips.

Plus, the cool factor that comes with a Diveheart scuba experience is off the charts. After working with Diveheart, children, veterans and others with disabilities no longer self-identify as people with disabilities, but rather as scuba divers. This newfound confidence helps them focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do. many participants take on other challenges in their lives that they might not have even thought of before.

In addition to continuing to grow adaptive scuba experiences, training and trips around the world, Diveheart has many future goals. One is to increase the volume of scuba therapy research with university medical centers and others around the world.

Specifically, a short-term goal is to work with physical, occupational therapists and rehabilitation doctors to develop an underwater therapy program that brings much of what therapists do with patients at the surface to an underwater environment in swimming pools.

Another important goal to build a deep warm water therapy pool so that the benefits of scuba therapy and scuba therapy research seen in open water environments can be replicated in a warm, confined deep water environment.

Diveheart is looking for partners in the medical and therapeutic fields to help achieve these and other goals in the area of scuba therapy.

Read original article at News-Line website.

Download a PDF file of this article.

NBC-5 Chicago: Diveheart Woman Uses Creativity to Make Masks (Video)

Woman Uses Creativity, Perseverance to Help Make Masks Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

NBC-5 Chicago

A local woman wanted to make a difference for her community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and thanks to her perseverance and creativity she was able to do exactly that. NBC 5’s LeeAnn Trotter shares her story.

Navy Veteran Jesse Kolek Finds Way: A Life with Diveheart Family Post 9/11

Navy Veteran Jesse Kolek Finds Way: A Life with Diveheart Family Post 9/11

By Wendy Foster
Hinsdale Magazine, May 2020

Diveheart helped Navy veteran Jesse Kolek find his way. Diveheart, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides scuba diving instruction and opportunities for children and adults with disabilities and wounded veterans. Diveheart’s office is located in Downers Grove, and the organization has chapters around the world.

Following the events of 9-11-01, Jesse enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a diver. “My primary duties included experimental, salvage, husbandry, and rescue diving,” he said. Jesse was honorably discharged in 2011 due to a service-related disability, and he subsequently struggled to figure out his future. “Diving was all I knew and cared about,” he said. “I attempted attending community college but had difficulty focusing and struggled in class. My main desire was to somehow get back into the Navy as a diver. It took a while to realize that wasn’t going to happen.”

It was through his involvement with an employment program at the local Hines VA Hospital that Jesse connected with Diveheart. In helping identify meaningful civilian employment, Eric Kulesza, the job coach with whom he worked, listened carefully to Jesse’s interest and skills. Familiar with Diveheart, Eric approached the organization, sharing Jesse’s experience in the Navy, and inquiring about possible employment. “Founder/president Jim Elliott, and executive director Tinamarie Hernandez were receptive to the VA program and carved out a role to help me be part of Diveheart’s mission of helping individuals with disabilities through scuba diving. Although I am not performing the same duties as I was in the Navy, I still find meaning being involved in diving.”

Jesse began with Diveheart volunteering as an office assistant. He switched to managing equipment and operations, something, he said, he was more “interested and proficient in.” The next year, Diveheart secured funding enabling them to hire him part-time. “My duties consist of organizing and maintaining inventory in the gear locker, which is Diveheart’s storage facility. I prepare and stage the equipment for upcoming dive events,” Jesse said. “I’m also welcome to participate in local weekend dive events.”

Jesse said that working at Diveheart has been good for his mental health. “Other areas of my life have also seemingly improved since I’ve been there. For example, I now have two beautiful girls and own a home in Bolingbrook with my girlfriend, Heather.”

“Jim and Tinamarie have been very understanding of my needs and abilities. They are flexible whenever I have medical appointments or parenting responsibilities, and overall are extremely supportive. I am so glad Diveheart is continuing to expand and benefit more and more people.”

Read full article at Hinsdale Magazine

Download PDF file of this article

Power of Partnership: Diveheart in Depth

Power of Partnership: Diveheart in Depth

Downers Grove Magazine, March 2020

“We’re always so proud of and excited about the support that we receive in very different ways from area businesses,” said Jim Elliott, founder and president of Diveheart in Downers Grove. “Case in point is local automobile dealership owner Bill Kay. For more than 20 years, Bill’s generosity and expertise have helped Diveheart achieve our mission.”

A non-profit organization, Diveheart provides scuba diving instruction and opportunities for children and adults with disabilities and wounded veterans. Diveheart’s office is located in Downers Grove, and the organization has chapters around the world. Diveheart’s participants include individuals with almost any level of cognitive, physical or emotional disability.

Bill Kay, a Naperville resident, owns area Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan, Buick, GMC and Ford dealerships. Kay first learned about Diveheart in 1999.

“I was planning a trip to Hawaii for the new millennium and wanted to get certified for scuba diving,” he said. “My cousin recommended Jim, who is an outstanding scuba instructor. Jim worked with me, and I was certified in time for my trip.

Elliott subsequently helped Kay to become a certified rescue diver.

Kay said that from the start, he has been impressed by Elliott’s passion.

“I can’t say enough good things about Jim and his dedication to Diveheart,” he said. “Running the organization as a full-time volunteer, he sacrifices so much to help people with disabilities experience something that they otherwise would not be able to do. I started by donating a vehicle to Diveheart many years ago. My family’s foundation has also made financial contributions to Diveheart throughout the years.”

Kay’s generosity extends to him sharing his expertise.

“I guess I’m the go-to guy that keeps Jim on the road,” he said. “Jim does a tremendous amount of traveling, supporting the Diveheart cause. I make sure his vehicles are maintained, and on occasion, I will arrange the sale of a donated vehicle for him. I also am on the board of directors of the Angelfish Foundation, which supports Diveheart.

“Reliable transportation is so important to our ability to provide our services,” Elliott said. “Bill’s generosity is essential to that. We are grateful to him for everything he does for our organization.”

Read the complete Downers Grove Magazine article

Ocean Reef Works Together with Diveheart Organization

Ocean Reef Works Together with Diveheart Organization

By Ocean Reef / Dive News Wire
17 March 2020

“I can do adventure”. Ocean Reef for Diveheart.

Several years ago, Ocean Reef started an amazing and emotionally intense partnership with Diveheart, a nonprofit organization with a unique and inspiring goal: improve confidence and independence in children, adults, and veterans with disabilities through scuba experience.

Ocean Reef’s vision begins with the phrase: “we were all born from the sea” and it shares the same Diveheart values: “We’ve discovered the forgiving, weightless wonder of the water column provides the perfect gravity-free environment for those who might otherwise struggle on land. “Underwater, we’re all equal”.

Amber’s Story
Amber has been a sport lover since she was a child. During training to become a water ski national champion, she injured her spinal cord, drastically changing her life at the very young age of 19.

Her inner strength and immense passion for life, pushed Amber to find a sport that could get her in the water again: scuba diving was the answer.

Ocean Reef is delighted and honored to contribute in a very small way with its IDMs (full face masks) helping, heroes like Amber, enjoy freedom in the underwater world and supporting the selfless volunteers of Diveheart in their amazing work of making this magic happen.

Read the article on Dive News Wire website.