IAHD-Americas training in Bonaire!

This week has been a busy one for IAHD-Americas Intructor Trainer Dave Valaika.  A month ago, we were contacted by Diane Defeo, a young lady in Rye, NY who learned about IAHD-Americas at the Beneath the Sea show.  Diane suffers from Myotonic Dystrophy, a hereditary chromosonal disorder that affects the body and spirit in many ways.  First and foremast is the muscular degeneration and skeletal issues common to Muscular Dystrophy, but it is accompanied by a host of other challenges to those affected by it.  You can learn more about this at www.myotonicdystrophy.org

Diane’s husband, Albert, is an avid diver of many years, and his stories of what he would see and experience while diving just fueled Diane’s desire to be able to share this special sport with him.  But the onset of the disease at the age of 38 seemed to slam the door shut on the chances of this ever becoming a reality.  When they learned about IAHD-Americas and what we are doing to help share the magic of the undersea world with the disabled, they immediately called us up to see if there was anything we could do.  Dave learned all he could from Diane about what her abilities were and her restrictions, and decided that she was a candidate for diver training through the IAHD program.  The excitement was even greater as they had booked a vacation to the island of Bonaire, with expectations of Albert diving and Diane watching from shore – now that setting might be about to change!

Step one was to locate an IAHD-certified training facility in the Rye area that could work with Diane, but in spite of the IAHD-Americas appeal to dive centers to get on board, no one in the Rye area had yet stepped up.  So rather than let the program die on the vine there, Dave opted to come and train Diane himself, and contacted the Rye YMCA to gain access to an accessible pool.  Laura Tiedge, the Aquatic Director there, could not have been more helpful, giving us multiple time slots in her fully accessible pool.  Diane was sent her PADI book and training materials and given her homework assignments to complete in anticipation of Dave’s visit.

Dave traveled the 2.5 hour trip on Wednesday, stopping at the YMCA to meet the key persons and inspect the layout.  Then he headed to meet with Diane and Albert at their apartment and get started on the academics.  One long 4 hour session later, we had covered more than half the material, and we arranged to meet the next day at the pool. 

Thursday we met at the YMCA and got Diane fitted with gear for her first confined water session.  Albert geared up also to assist and work towards his IAHD Dive Partner certification.  Slowly but steadily we progressed through gearing up, getting in, getting under and finally really starting to look like a diver.  Trimming was key as Diane’s body seemed to have a mind of it’s own as to how it wanted to go in the water.  Lot’s of experimentation with placement of trim weights to help achieve not only good trim in the water, but good positioning on the surface too!  Overall it was a great session, and Diane and Albert were thrilled with the upcoming possibilities.   Friday we met again, with another five hour round trip for Dave to get through New York City, but the session went well, and we all felt good about Diane & Albert heading to Bonaire. 

The next step was to locate an IAHD Instructor in Bonaire.  The island is part of the Netherlands Antilles, and is the only group of islands in the Caribbean that does not fall into the IAHD-Americas region.  It was determined that there was currently no IAHD representation on the island, and Klaas Brower, IAHD President, gave us the green light to continue Diane’s training there.  So we set up our training at the Divi Flamingo Resort, which is a fully accessible facility and is currently HSA trained for working with disabled divers.  Serge, the dive operations manager there, could not bave been more helpful in helping us make all the necessary arrangements.

We flew down on Saturday, and started our training Sunday afternoon in the balmy waters of western shore of Bonaire.  We modified our weighting and trimming to get Diane right in the salt water with her exposure suit, and enjoyed our first two open water dives.  Monday we further refined the process, getting in two more dives, and finally, on Tuesday, we enjoyed our longest and deepest dives so far, spending 30+ minutes enjoying the reef in 30 feet of water. 

We celebrated with a few more hugs and a graduation ceremony dockside.  Diane is now officially certified as an IAHD Sport Diver!  While Dave packed up and headed home, Diane and Albert plan to relax for the next few days in Bonaire.  They plan to be joining us at Dutch Springs to continue their diving this summer.  Look for some great video footage of Diane in her biggest adventure ever on the IAHD-Americas site soon!  

So, let’s sum up this experience –

                                 3 five hour round trips to Rye, NY            $300

                                 Airfare to Bonaire                                     $810

                                Hotel & Meals                                            $574

                               The smile on Diane’s face after 6 dives   PRICELESS!


One Response

  1. Dave you are one special guy! It was awesome of you to go to so much effort for that couple! I know it was a vacation they will never forget!

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