Glancer Magazine: Underwater We Are All Equal

Underwater We Are All Equal

by Kristen Kucharski (Mom’s Little Black Book), January 2020

If you know me well, you know I love a variety of activities, including personal support and respite care on the weekends; as well as hosting Special Survivor Games for Indian Prairie School District’s students with multi-needs.

One of my greatest adventures is hanging out with a young lady that is always up for my next big idea! She shares my spirit of wanting to discover new things and I love her determination and willingness to explore the unknown. We have been kayaking in Wheaton, stand-up paddle boarding in Naperville, hiking in Lemont, and anchored bullseyes with a cross-bow in Montgomery. We have a long list of local adventures to try; and of course, a couple of bucket list items, like meeting The Rock – the one and only Dwayne Johnson, the master of thrill, fun, and excitement!

While making this list, she added scuba diving; so, the search began for local options for beginners. We discovered Diveheart in Downers Grove. Diveheart works with individuals who have a variety of disabilities, including physical and developmental disabilities, vision and hearing impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more. Diveheart seeks to help its participants “Imagine the Possibilities” in their lives.

She is all about not only imagining the possibilities, but making those a reality, which I absolutely love! Registering for scuba diving was easy and FREE! Yes Free! Our first class was at the YMCA in Elgin and our next at Oak Lawn High School. As with all the activities we do, she was a natural. The volunteers at Diveheart provided guidance and support and she dove in hook, line, and sinker! No pun intended! Each month she achieves a new skill with her eye set on seeking certification.

Watching the volunteers work with the individuals of varying abilities is an amazing experience. Watching my young friend live a life of no boundaries in priceless!

Read the complete Glancer Magazine article

About the Writer
Naperville mom Kristen Kucharski graduated from Illinois State University in 1992 with an International Business Degree. She has two energetic daughters and her house is always full of children. Kristen’s column titled, Mom’s Little Black Book, is a monthly feature written for moms who are looking for ways to keep their kids busy.

Win A Trip for Two in Fiji – Garden Island Resort

Fiji is Calling You!

5 day dive trip for two benefits divers with disabilities Support Diveheart and Support People With Disabilities
I want to buy a ticket and win!

Win A Trip for Two in Fiji – Garden Island Resort
5 day dive trip for two benefits divers with disabilities Support Diveheart and Support People With Disabilities.



Benefiting People with Autism

Benefiting Individuals with Autism

Hinsdale Magazine, January 2020

“Science is increasingly supporting what we’ve known to be true for years,” said Jim Elliott, president and founder of Diveheart. The non-profit, based in Downers Grove and with chapters around the world, provides scuba-diving instruction and opportunities to children, adults and veterans with disabilities.

“We’ve long seen the remarkable value that scuba-diving has on individuals with virtually every type of disability,” Elliott said. “Divers who are on the autism spectrum in particular benefit from the sensory environment provided through scuba-diving.”

One of Diveheart’s star divers, Amy Lippert, has enjoyed scuba-diving since she was first introduced to it in 2006. The now 26-year-old resident of Palos Heights has autism, and struggles with social skills and communication. Her parents learned about Diveheart through the special recreation swim coach with the Oak Lawn Park District, and decided to give it a try.

“Scuba-diving is inherently hyperbaric; the pressure increases as you descend in the water,” Elliott said. “This can be very therapeutic for individuals with autism. Furthermore, divers find that the absence of noise and stimulation underwater is soothing and peaceful. Participants value the sensory freedom.”

Amy enjoyed scuba-diving from the start.

“She enjoys the water and is alert to people and her surroundings while she’s scuba- diving,” her father Ray said. “She looks forward to going to Diveheart events, and enjoys the time with her friends and family and being part of the group.”

An added benefit of scuba- diving to the Lipperts is the fact that it has become an activity in which the entire family participates together. Amy’s twin sisters Mary and Marie, each 24, began diving with Amy early on, joined shortly thereafter by her parents.

Mary, Marie and Amy’s mother Ruth all became open-water certified. The family now volunteers at Diveheart events, and has traveled with the organization to the Florida Keys.

Download a PDF file of this article

Steven Woodham: Marine Corps Vet & Diveheart Diver

Steven Woodham: Marine Corps Vet & Diveheart Diver

Hinsdale Magazine, November 2019

Q: How did you first hear about Diveheart?
I heard about Diveheart through the Aurora Vet Center. I was going there for readjustment counseling and was told that I might enjoy the Diveheart Scuba Experience (DSE) event that was being held nearby. This was in the Spring of 2017.

Q: Can you tell us about your abilities?
I retired from the Marine Corps in 2010 after 22+ years of combined Active Duty and Reserve service, including deployments for Desert Storm and three deployments for OIF / OEF. I also spent 24 years as a police officer in Naperville. The combination of these two professions resulted in the onset of depression and anxiety as well as several other physical limitations caused by multiple injuries during my times of service.

Q: Can you tell us how Diveheart activities have helped you?
I started diving in 2017 with Diveheart, and since then, I have attended around 20 different diving events, including a trip to Key Largo, Florida in June of 2019 where I received my Open Water Diver certification. Through Diveheart … [more]

Read the complete Hinsdale Magazine article (page 41)

Download a PDF file of this article

Diveheart: A Beacon for Adaptive Diving

Diveheart: A Beacon for Adaptive Diving

By John Tapley, Scuba & H2O Adventures Magazine
November 1, 2019

The world of scuba diving is inviting and expansive: while enveloped within the blue, scuba divers enjoy a realm unlike any other: a zone of serenity and calm that sweeps away worries and emboldens its practitioners. For disabled divers, adaptive divers, this world opens avenues previously unavailable: while under the waves, adaptive divers experience the freedom of weightlessness, and a heightened determination augmented by supportive buddies. Managing adaptive diving programs is no small feat, and requires students and instructors to go beyond their limitations. As scuba diving has evolved over the decades, training agencies, dive centers, non-profits, and individuals have joined together for this noble mission. Such is Diveheart: one of the most prolific adaptive diving organizations since 2001.

Ana Calvo shows off her perfect buoyance in Bonaire on a Diveheart Scuba Adventure Trip. Ana was born with no arms or legs, but with a little help from her Diveheart Adaptive Dive buddies and instructor, she was able to dive every dive site with the best of them


Diveheart is a 501(c)3 non-profit headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois, in the Chicagoland area. The organization’s primary mission, according to founder and president Jim Elliot, is “to instill confidence, independence, and self-esteem in children, veterans, and others with disabilities” by utilizing “scuba therapy and other related activities.” Diveheart divers have worked closely with research departments of university medical centers, including John Hopkins and Duke University, to ascertain the benefits of adaptive diving.

“Very early on, we saw some benefits anecdotally. We saw people with autism respond amazingly to just being in the water – eliminating surface distractions and things like that,” says Elliot. “Individuals with chronic pain claimed they were pain free after 10 or 15 years.”

Training adaptive divers is paramount to Diveheart’s goals, and it does so in a way that is safe, effective, and overall helps instill students with confidence and agency. Diveheart uses a specialized training program to meet recipients’ specific needs and match them with appropriate mentors and teams. The Diveheart Scuba Experience is one tool in this endeavor, which mirrors Discover Scuba programs: introducing disabled people to scuba and its benefits for the first time in a safe, enclosed pool environment.

“[Training is] very rigorous,” says Elliot. “The certification we give the adaptive diver determines their team. If you have a spinal cord injury, are a quadriplegic, and can’t ascend or descend on your own – you can’t equalize – you would immediately get an advanced team. Based on the abilities of the adaptive diver, we form a team around them and that’s the certification they get.”

Caption: Jim Elliot fitting Diveheart student Triston

Beyond adaptive training, Diveheart also provides adaptive buddy and advanced courses, ensuring adaptive divers a safe, friendly, and well-trained support system. Diveheart instructor training is another element of its training regimen tailored for instructors who are already certified through scuba diving training agencies; meeting these demands requires the utmost aptitude in scuba diving and working with adaptive students. Seasoned instructor trainers head these training programs and are similarly tested through extensive criteria. Participants in instructor training often learn during Diveheart trips specially designed for them.

Elliott explains:

“We needed to create environments where instructors can build confidence and experience. We decided to build a trip training paradigm: going to Key Largo mainly and Cozumel. It’s total immersion training where they get in on a Saturday and meet the adaptive divers. We break up the boats based on individuals and abilities. The cool thing is that we’ll have morning dives with the adaptive divers, then we’ll have lunch in the afternoon, then training with the buddies. You really get to know people with disabilities, learn more about them, and all the nuance you don’t learn in a class.”

Training participants on all levels of the Diveheart strata is just one aspect of the organization’s overarching mission. Diveheart’s goals extend to the greater scuba diving industry via a program called Outreach and Education: where the organization inspires the industry to adopt similar training programs. Diveheart’s training style is designed to be flexible and inclusive, making it applicable to adaptive divers the world over.

Explains Elliot:

“Our training materials are all written in such a way that if an instructor in a part of the world that will never have the resources to come and train with us… he or she can read the book and can do the online training, and figure out how to work with individuals with disabilities. Instructors are adapting all the time… most instructors even without adaptive training can figure out someone with an amputation will be weighted differently.”

Caption: Jim Elliot equalizing a Diveheart student in Cozumel

Diveheart was incorporated in 2001 while Elliot was working for Chicago radio station WGN, but the program began to germinate in the ‘80s when he taught blind people how to ski: an act inspired by his oldest daughter’s struggles with blindness. He applied this program to a more universal and accessible sport, scuba, and Diveheart flourished from it.

“I saw that skiing turned peoples’ lives around, and I thought, ‘You can only ski at certain times of the year and certain places in the world.’ I had been diving since college – as a journalist, I thought I’d meet Jacques Cousteau! I fell in love with diving. It was like being an astronaut.” he says.

“I was thinking mainly of people with physical disabilities: get them out of their wheelchair and into the water; get them weighed properly; teach them how to stand up; and have them benefit from it. Intuitively, I’m thinking it has to help them from being sedentary in a wheelchair.”

Since Diveheart’s inception, it has trained over a thousand adaptive divers, buddies, and instructors. Diveheart has developed alliances over the years with organizations and dive centers, which have adopted its practices and guide adaptive divers to it. Several Diveheart teams operate throughout the world: from Oklahoma to Washington DC; from Los Angeles to Malaysia. The non-profit has participated in numerous scuba diving conventions, has worked with major training agencies and veterans’ administrations, and helps interested parties in fundraising.

Caption: Fellowship – a pillar of Diveheart’s mission

At the core of Diveheart’s mission are the many volunteers, instructors, helpers, and buddies who make it possible.

Diveheart board member Ron Rispoli was introduced to the organization at a conference in 2003 where he met with Elliot. Already a certified scuba explorer and working with a Chicago-area school for children with disabilities, Rispoli was intrigued by Diveheart’s mission.

“I dive. I work in a place for kids with disabilities. I run into a guy who teaches scuba to kids to disabilities and we have a pool,” recalls Rispoli. “I got to talking with him, I pitched the idea to my administration – they loved it! From 2003 until 2017 we were working with Diveheart to get my students with physical disabilities into the water so they could understand how scuba diving could impact their lives.”

Today, Rispoli works with Diveheart events and spreading the organization’s message; he has been engaged in numerous programs and projects.

He says:

“What I get a charge out of… my students who didn’t, for the most part, have an opportunity to do very much in life: now all of a sudden it’s, ‘Hey! Let’s go scuba diving!’ Once they realize they can do this, their whole world changes: ‘Just see what I did!’ A very small percentage of people in the world dive, and here you have kids with disabilities doing something 99 percent of the world doesn’t do.

“It changes their life. I’ve had kids go from wallflowers to being outgoing because it gives them so much confidence. I’ve seen that multiple times with multiple students. They thought, ‘What can I do?’ and they’ve got the scuba tank on their back; the mask on; they’re breathing through a regulator. It’s the greatest thing, and they realize they’re good at it!”

Caption: Diveheart Scuba Experience at Elgin IL YMCA

For Bill Bogan, Diveheart has been an opportunity to give back to adaptive scuba after the sport changed his life. A Diveheart mentor and board member, Bogan developed neuroblastoma, a cancer of the spine, at eight months old and is an incomplete paraplegic. Bogan started diving in 1991 through his local dive center, which offered Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) certifications.

He states:

“I got involved with Diveheart because I love scuba diving and I found how much I benefited from learning how to do it. I knew there was a lot of costs involved with scuba equipment, paying for lessons, and all that other stuff. Diveheart was brought to me by a lady who worked at Shriner’s Hospital for Children, which is the hospital I went to my whole childhood. I said, ‘Sign me up! I’m in!” I knew what it meant to me to learn how to scuba dive and I wanted to help.”

Bogdan regularly participates in Diveheart Scuba Experiences by encouraging people to invite adaptive diving into their lives. Working with Diveheart for over 15 years to benefit others has been an impassioned goal for him.

“We talk about living life with a disability and getting them to try it in a nice closed pool setting where they can easily get comfortable,” he explains. “We talk about different types of equipment, living with a disability, and how to swim. Most people with disabilities are often fearful to get in the water because they feel they can’t.”

Caption: A reef ball displaying Diveheart

For Bogdan, his most thrilling memory working and diving along Diveheart was the organization’s trip to Cozumel in 2018. Alongside his wife, who is also a diver, he certified his 15-year-old daughter.

“To go on a family trip, and be a father with a disability, and have the opportunity to personally dive with your kid and get them into it: that by far, I’ll always cherish. It was a life changing experience for me. I don’t want to say sports are always inclusive for individuals with disabilities… our program is inclusive for anybody: people with or without disabilities.”

Looking forward, Diveheart is planning on a number of exotic dive trips throughout 2020, and is currently seeking a base of operations.

“We feel if we could have a destination, it will be a magnet for scuba therapy and research from around the world: people from university medical centers can get grants; we wouldn’t do research but would facilitate it [by] training [people] to dive and keep them safe in the water,” states Elliot.

Caption: Triston embarking into adaptive diving

Now reaching its 19th year, Diveheart has been a pinnacle for adaptive divine training around the world, and a beacon of freedom, perseverance, and camaraderie for thousands of scuba explorers, be they adaptive or not. Against many barriers and pitfalls, adaptive divers have surpassed their limitations, and have resurfaced with a renewed purpose and zest for exploration – alongside empathic buddies expertly trained to guide them along the path.

Rispoli shares:

“Scuba diving is a tool. Many activities can be adapted to someone with a disability so they can enjoy the same thing their counterparts without disabilities can enjoy doing. They can go rock climbing or martial arts from a wheelchair or mouth painting. There’s so many different things out there and we just happen to use scuba diving. If you get someone engaged in an activity they enjoy and adapt it to them, you’re going to see a world of change in who that person is and how they look at life. It brings out the best in people.”

Bogan concludes:

“It’s always been about trying to help people with disabilities gain self-confidence. We always talk about the ‘yes I can’ spirit but to gain self-confidence through scuba diving, and using that to apply in their everyday life. If you’re Johnny the scuba diver, there’s no reason you can’t become Johnny the CEO of a company or use those experiences in your life to further your independence; your community involvement; your career. Wherever your desires are, you can use that in your everyday life.”

Read the complete article on Scuba & H2O Adventures Magazine website

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Diveheart Malaysia: Buletin TV3 – Dream of becoming scuba divers with disability

Realisasi Impian OKU Jadi Penyelam Skuba (video)

Realization of a Dream for a Scuba Diver with a Disability

Buletin TV3 Malaysia

Aktiviti selam skuba terbukti berkesan sebagai proses pemulihan dan latihan terapeutik khusus kepada golongan orang kurang upaya OKU.

Ikuti laporan Mohd Ishak Abdillah Ngah, yang menyelami impian golongan itu.

Watch video on Youtube.

Cure Medical: Christopher Block Finds Freedom in Scuba Diving

Christopher Block Finds Freedom in Scuba Diving After SCI

Cure Medical

The CURE NATION blog often shares stories of people exploring their world after spinal cord injury to help encourage others on the same path to choose their own adventure too! We knew the minute we met Christopher Block, a C5 quadriplegic, at the Chicago Abilities Expo that his journey would also motivate so many people who dream of conquering the high seas. Read on below to discover how scuba diving changed Chris’ outlook on paralysis and more as he adjusted to life after spinal cord injury.

Christopher Block Got ON THE FAST TRACK TO RECOVERY at Shirley Ryan Ability Center

Christopher Block is 33 years old and lives in a suburb of Chicago called Highland Park. He was injured three years ago attempting a bicycle stunt in a friend’s backyard, breaking his neck at C-5. “They didn’t tell me the brakes were disabled,” he tells. “I had a helmet on but that didn’t help. I went over the ramp and head-first into the muddy bottom of the pond below.”

“I’ve been doing everything I can to get my independence back ever since.”

Chris was sent to Shirley Ryan Ability Center for rehab where he’s been working hard to get his life back. Transfers have been one of the most difficult obstacles for Chris, just as it is for most quads. He’s had four bicep-to-tricep and forearm-to-thumb tendon transfer surgeries to try to gain more strength in his arms and function in his hands.
Chris credits Shirley Ryan Ability Center with much of his recovery after SCI.

Chris credits Shirley Ryan Ability Center with much of his recovery after SCI.

“It’s the bed transfer that I’ve been working on the most,” he says. “I can get in it but getting out is almost impossible. It is impossible with a soft mattress.”
Chris Shares His Fitness Secrets as a quadriplegic

“The best two things I’ve found, in my personal opinion, since being injured to help me stay in shape is a rowing program out of Spaulding Rehab and my standing wheelchair,” Chris reports.

“The rowing machine I have is for quads and paras and uses E-stim for your legs while you row with your arms. You can really get a good workout with it and get your heart rate up. That’s not easy for quads to do,” he explains. “When I can I try to use it every other day, and I use those Active Hands gloves to keep my hands on the handles.”

“As a quad, I feel that rowing has been the best thing for getting my core muscles stronger, and the E-stim keeps my legs in better shape.”

“The other thing I use a lot is my stand-up wheelchair,” Chris continues. “I have a Permobil F5 and I try to get up for at least 45 minutes every day. The doctors told me that’s ideal for my bones. I know it helps my digestion too.”

Chris also gets on the back of a horse once a week, thanks to a program called Equestrian Connection only twenty minutes away from his house.chris enjoys horse therapy too”I basically hold on for dear life,” Chris says while laughing. “One of the therapists there just picks me up and puts me in the saddle.”

“They walk beside me the whole time though so it’s safe. It’s supposed to give your body that walking motion it’s missing, and it only costs $25/week for a half hour of riding, and they do a great job for people with all kinds of disabilities.”

“When I was inpatient at Shirley Ryan, I picked up a flyer one day about this scuba organization called Diveheart,” Chris recounts.

“There was a cute girl on the cover which caught my attention too. I actually got to know her later. Anyway, they were having an event where anyone could come try it out so I went — and I loved it! It was in a swimming pool but being in the water, I felt so comfortable and the weightlessness was amazing. I could move around with so little effort.”

Read the complete article on Cure Medical website.

Download a PDF file of this article

Programs Offer Watersports Training To Disabled Veterans

Programs Offer Watersports Training To Disabled Veterans

By Sherrilyn Cabrera & Gerard Albert III
WRLN Miami, August 2019

The ocean is a significant part of life in South Florida. But for many disabled veterans, accessing the water is not always easy.

It took Army veteran Don Bickham three years to learn how to sail a boat. Unlike most newcomers to sailing, he couldn’t rely on his eyes.

Bickham’s cataracts began to affect his sight when he served in the Army during Vietnam. When he returned from combat, he underwent a botched surgery that resulted in him losing almost all of his sight. Now he can only partially see from one eye.

Since becoming legally blind, Bickham lost the ability to drive and depends on others to take him around. Learning to sail was a way Bickham could gain some independence, and now he teaches sailing classes to beginners. He has since taken on other sports like biking, fishing and hiking. Bickham was introduced to the watersports organization Shake-A-Leg almost five years ago through veterans affairs.

“Before I would say, ‘well, I can’t see that, I can’t do that,'” said Bickham. “But now I may not be able to see it, but I’m going to say, ‘Let me try.'”

In South Florida, veterans with physical disabilities and mental disorders like PTSD, depression and anxiety can find it difficult to participate in activities such as diving, snorkeling or sailing. Even a simple trip to the beach can be a strenuous task.

Programs including Shake-A-Leg in Coconut Grove and DiveHeart in Palm Beach give veterans the chance to learn watersports and eventually teach the sports to others — including other veterans.

The Shake-A-Leg organization was founded in Miami in 1990 by Harry Horgan. Partnered with the city of Miami and veteran affairs, the group helps the disabled, veterans and their families. DiveHeart is a nationwide organization, with branches in Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Shake-A-Leg sailing instructor J.P. White, a retired Navy veteran, said that leaving combat and then returning to society can be difficult. “You really feel like you don’t fit in,” White said.

“But when I’m out on the water and I’m sailing, I do fit in, I do understand the rules, I do recognize how things are supposed to work,” White said. “It was something I could identify with when I did get out of the military.”

Army veteran Sharmaynne Thomas has been taking sailing classes at Shake-A-Leg for two months. Her service dog named Lady — a large, white, long-haired American Bulldog — joins her on every trip.

While in the Army, Thomas was in a Jeep accident that left her severely injured. She broke her shoulder, collar bone, hip, both knees and both ankles. She has since recovered from her physical injuries, but still has lingering mental issues and suffers from seizures.

Thomas often relies on Lady to help her leave her house.

“That’s hard because I’d rather be inside where I can control, than be outside and be fearful,” she said.

But when she’s by the water and with other veterans, Thomas said she feels at peace.

“Just something about the sea, something about the ocean, it’s like your mother. You know, like when she rocks you, it feels the same way,” said Thomas.

She said she hopes to eventually become an instructor, so that she is able to spread that same peace to others.

Almost two hours north of Shake-A-Leg, at Palm Beach’s DiveHeart, veteran Larry Yates practices his scuba diving.

Yates has non-combat-related spastic paraplegia and is unable to move his legs. He has been in a wheelchair since he left the Army over 20 years ago. But with the help of his instructor and Marine veteran David DeChant, Yates has practiced diving in a swimming pool. Recently, he dove in the ocean for the first time.

“He’s been working with me for two years and he teaches me everything,” Yates said. “It’s relaxing to have someone that knows what they’re doing and not afraid to work with you. A lot of people, when you’re in a wheelchair, they don’t want you anywhere near them.”

DeChant meets Yates almost every Saturday to train and he is preparing him for his next dive in the keys.

As a former Marine and instructor, DeChant believes other veterans can be healed by the ocean and that getting them into the water can help save their lives.

“To see them touch the sand for the first time or see sharks, or numerous fin fish that are there, or coral, and to see the smiles on their face — it’s just incredible,” DeChant said.

Read the complete article (with audio) at WLRN website