Reasons & Remarks – Scuba Adventures

Don’t let life get too busy to do the things that really matter

It was a Saturday morning in early June, and I had been given the task of helping my dad clean the garage.

For me, it was the beginning of summer break between fifth and sixth grade. I came across a box labeled “Paul’s Stuff.” Paul is my older brother by 17 years. By the time I was born, he was already serving in the U.S. Navy.

I guess they allowed you to join at that age back then. He served on a destroyer in the South Pacific during the nuclear testing that was then taking place. During his time in the Navy, Paul learned to scuba dive, and I came across his mask, fins and snorkel in the box. I asked my dad if I could try them on, and he said, “Sure.”

That afternoon, I hopped on my bicycle and headed to Lake Ripley on the edge of town in Litchfield, Minn. I had to pile on a few layers of socks because the fins were too big for me, but once I hit the water, that didn’t matter.

I swallowed more of that lake than I care to remember in my self-taught use of a snorkel, but it didn’t take long for me to figure it out. After that first day, I was hooked and spent many more days that summer and every summer for years snorkeling in Minnesota’s lakes. I encouraged neighborhood friends to acquire equipment, which they did, and it became a summer activity more enjoyable for us than baseball.

After watching reruns of the Lloyd Bridges TV show Sea Hunt, we got creative. I cut a broken hockey stick down to about 18 inches, drilled a hole in the end and inserted a longer metal rod.

My dad was a welder, and our garage was well equipped. The end of the rod was ground to a sharp point, and a nail welded to the tip created a barb. That became my intro to spearfishing.

Years later, I acquired a real spear gun. But to this day, I wish I still had that old hockey stick. When I joined the Navy, I became a certified scuba diver, not as part of my official duties but as a way of continuing my love of being in the water. I did my scuba training while attending a Navy school in Millington, Tenn.

Upon classroom and pool work completion, it was off to Florida for my check-out dive. When I heard we were going to Florida, I immediately assumed that meant diving in the Gulf of Mexico. I was wrong.

The Florida panhandle is famous for another kind of diving — cave diving. My introduction to scuba diving came at Vortex Spring, with its freshwater eels, cool water temperature and an insanely deep cavern. During my Navy service, I had the opportunity to dive in Spain, but bicycle racing took over as my top off-duty activity.

While still serving on active duty, I incurred a level T2 spinal-cord injury in 1989. I never thought about returning to diving and didn’t even know it was possible.

Years passed, and I met a fellow paralyzed veteran named Hack Albertson, an avid scuba diver who suggested I get back in the water. After a few years of encouragement, I finally went through a recertification course and made my splash in the Florida Keys in June 2017.

The dive was sponsored by LifeWaters, an amazing organization that teaches scuba to people with disabilities, allowing us to experience the thrill of diving. This particular dive was special and was dubbed the first “Hero Dive.”

The hero was a man named Joe Zappa. Joe, an Army veteran, had been recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and on his bucket list was a wish to dive with his wife and daughter.

I gained some new perspectives on life in the short time I spent with Joe and was honored to be part of the dive. It set me on a course toward many more dive adventures.

In 2019, I convinced my then-21-year-old twin sons to get certified and join me on a trip to the island of Bonaire. It was a great week of diving and bonding, which was made even better by them being able to spend time with Hack and many other Paralyzed Veterans of America and LifeWaters friends.

We were planning another adventure to dive in Roatán, Honduras, in the summer of 2020, but that pesky novel coronavirus (COVID-19) got in the way. We have yet to make another trip, but we hope to soon.

Don’t let life get too busy to do the things that really matter

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