Adaptive scuba instructors and participants dive the depths of Homestead Crater during first annual Submerged Festival
Utah is best known for its national parks, its vast and rugged terrain and most notably for hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics/Paralympics.
Scuba diving isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the state of Utah, but that’s what recently took place at the Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah, as the 2021 Submerged Festival by Indigo Industries featured a week of adaptive scuba diving and outdoor adventures.
The event was two-fold. It allowed certified scuba instructors from across the country the opportunity to earn their adaptive scuba instructor credentials, and it invited people living with disabilities to come scuba dive the depths of the Homestead Crater.
The advanced adaptive scuba course was the subject of the first few days of the event, with roughly 10 scuba instructors arriving from diving schools in Minnesota, California and Florida.
Leading the course was retired Army Col. Mark Dugger, owner/instructor of the MidWest School of Diving in White Bear Lake, Minn.
Students settled in for a 10-hour classroom lecture at the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, Utah, that took them through myriad standards and procedures to help ready them to safely teach scuba diving to people living with disabilities. The course discussed in detail the various types of disabilities the instructors will encounter, safety protocols and physical performance requirements, just to name a few.
“Instructors and dive buddies have to learn how to work and communicate with people living with a wide range of disabilities while under water,” says Dugger. “From paraplegics to quadriplegics to the visually impaired, they have to figure how to communicate underwater with their diver students and perform any safety procedures and keep the students from being injured.”
From the Classroom to the Water
The following day, and for the remainder of the event, the dive instructors were put through a series of exercises to test their ability to safely help potential students with disabilities into the water, navigate underwater and communicate, return to the surface and safely help them back to dry land.
For many of the instructors, it was the first time working with someone with a disability, so to help get instructors into the proper mindset, Dugger appointed half of the class to “play” a disabled student, while the other half went through their checklists and procedures.
Depending on the instructor-student’s assigned “disability,” he or she might have to use a wheelchair for the day or have his or her eyes covered to experience a visual impairment. When the exercise ended, the roles of “disabled student” and instructor were reversed.
“Keeping students [with a disability] safe from further injury may seem like a common-sense practice, however adaptive scuba instructors have to consider a myriad of other factors, and each is student-specific,” says Dugger.
For example, when getting quadriplegics into their diving suits, instructors must be extra careful not to unintentionally bend their ankles or toes, which could lead to bone breaks, and must watch to make sure the students’ feet and legs are not dragging on the bottom of the pool or ocean floor, which could lead to abrasions and wounds.
Meeting Their Students
The newly certified adaptive scuba instructors got to put their training into use as the Submerged Festival participants arrived. They quickly learned that disabled role-playing could not prepare them for the real experience.
Amanda Letourneau, 31, drove through two time zones and more than 2,000 miles to attend this year’s event. The Vermont native and below-the-knee (BK) amputee was less than excited by the prospect of diving into a 68-foot-deep hot spring. And her anxiety showed.
“I want to learn to dive to see fish,” says Letourneau. “The reality of what I’m about to do has set in, but I want to overcome my fears and apprehensions for something that I feel can be quite rewarding and fun.”
As the hours and days passed, so did Letourneau’s fears, and by the end of the event, she was a certified scuba diver. To add to the excitement, she was presented her certificate by Australian Navy diver and Shark Week host Paul de Gelder, who was on hand as guest speaker at this year’s event.
For certified diver Amber Rangel, 26, experiencing the waters of the Homestead Crater was her goal. And for the instructor-students assigned to accompany her into the water, it was about to get real.
Rangel is a quadriplegic and while she was experienced in scuba, she gave the new instructors a first-hand lesson in everything they’d been taught over the last few days.
“Surprisingly, Amber was one of the easier students to work with today,” says Chuck Cearfass, a Professional Association of Diving Instructors-certified scuba instructor from Florida. “That being said, there was still a natural apprehension in being potentially responsible for being the one to cause her more harm. We made sure to keep close watch on her limbs and her breathing, discussed our hand signals to communicate and hopefully showed her a pleasant experience under the water.”
On Dry Land
Submerged Festival was more than scuba as the participants got to experience a rock climbing and rappelling course at the NAC, were taken for an off-road mountain biking tour and was treated to a three-hour Jeep tour around Park City and Midway Utah.
A parahockey clinic was scheduled as well, however, a scheduling conflict prevented the participants from getting access to the ice. But, all was not lost as they simply spent more time off-road handcycling and enjoying the wonders of the Utah outdoors.
For more information on Submerged Festival, visit Indigo Industries.