Diving Deep for Others

Like most kids, 11-year-old Zain Bando loves the water in the summer. Yet cerebral palsy makes it impossible to get himself in the pool. But thanks to instructors from the group Diveheart, Bando’s able to not only to get in the pool, but also able to SCUBA dive.

This just makes me feel free and it takes me away from all the other challenges I have to overcome.

The not-for-profit organization Diveheart offers people with mental and physical disabilities lessons in SCUBA diving and snorkeling. The group starts out with basic lessons in a small pool and eventually becomes certified so they can explore larger bodies of water. Since starting the program in 2001, Downer’s Grove resident Jim Elliot has certified more than 800 people all over the world. He says above all, the organization gives people with disabilities confidence and independence.

“They get out of the water smiling and that’s just the magic for me,” said Elliot. “It’s like watching that paradigm shift. All of sudden it’s not like Johnny in a wheelchair anymore. It’s Johnny the scuba diver!”

14-year-old Justin Sears has Asperger’s Disease and Attention Deficit Disorder but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his aspirations of becoming a marine biologist.

“SCUBA diving is the one thing that’ll bring me as close as possible to my dream,” said Sears.

As for Bando, he plans to continue diving throughout the year and even hopes to get certified with his family.

”I’ve learned a lot since the first time and i’ll probably continue to learn new things along the way,” said Bando. “But this is just the beginning.”

Dive heart founder Jim Elliot is currently working to get a 44-foot deep glass dive pool built in the Chicago area. Divers would use the facility for rehabilitation, training, and scientific research. Elliot hopes to have that facility built within the next five years.

For more information on diveheart, visit www.diveheart.org.

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