SYCAMORE – Barb Castritsis of Sycamore was learning to become a certified scuba diver, but had to stop when she learned she was pregnant with her son Michael.
Michael, who has Down syndrome and is now 18, loves to swim, so his mother registered him for the free Explore Scuba program Nov. 10 at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA rec pool.
“He loves the water, and it was a great opportunity for him to learn how to scuba dive,” Barb Castritsis said. “I’m so excited for him, it’s great watching him swim and dive. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. I never thought this was something he could do. But now it is a possibility, it’s something we could all do as a family.”
Kishwaukee Special Recreation Association, Adventure Works of DeKalb County and the Kishwaukee Family YMCA collaborated with Diveheart to offer the Explore Scuba program. The four participants spent about an hour in the water.
Diveheart, a nonprofit organization based in Downers Grove, provides educational scuba diving programs open to any child, adult or veteran with a disability. The program’s goals are to improve physical, emotional, cognitive and sensory skills, as well as teach new skills and overcome challenges.
Tinamarie Hernandez, Diveheart’s executive director, described the event as “an educational program, making them feel like part of a team and building their confidence.”
“We call them adaptive divers because we adapt diving to them,” Hernandez said. “They learn about the equipment, they put on the equipment and they use the equipment underwater. It’s important to get them comfortable and feel safe while in the water.
Ryan Bromberek, adventure program director at Adventure Works and past Diveheart intern, helped organize and bring the free scuba diving program to DeKalb County.
“I love seeing the positivity that comes out of diving,” Bromberek said. “I just want to see that happen for as many people as possible.”
KSRA Executive Director Dawn Schaefer said she was excited to see the divers “take to the water like fish.”
“It’s so great, seeing them jump in the water and swim all over,” she said. “Some were nervous and shy at first, but now they’re underwater with their gear on. Scuba diving is a bucket list item for so many people. It’s amazing that we can offer a program like this. Now they can all say they did it, they have scuba dived.”
The scuba diving program was the second at the Sycamore Y. Brian Bicker, senior aquatics director at the Y, said he hopes to offer the program multiple times in the future, possibly making it a quarterly event.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to engage youth and give kids an opportunity they never had or have the chance to experience,” Bickner said. “Their faces light up, you can tell they’re having a lot of fun. It’s an experience for them to enjoy and remember for a lifetime.”
Before leaving, Michael Castritsis thanked the Diveheart instructors and they asked if he enjoyed learning how to scuba dive.
“Scuba diving is my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I want to do it again. I can’t wait.”
For information about Diveheart, visit www.diveheart.org.