Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nonprofit Divers4Heroes offers disabled veterans a chance to scuba dive

WEEKI WACHEE — The first surprise that Roger Thomas got when he slipped into the temperate Weeki Wachee Springs was the water's clarity. He could make out the dozens of mullet, turtles and other small creatures that make the spring their home swimming 30 feet below the surface.

The other surprise for 48-year-old former Marine, who lost his right hand years ago in a military training accident, was how easy it was to maneuver through the springs, even with 40 pounds of scuba gear attached to his body.

"It was unbelievable," Thomas said Thursday evening after his dive. "I think I'm hooked now. I can't wait to go again."

For Bo and Debbie Twillman, there are few rewards greater than knowing they've helped a wounded veteran experience the wonder and beauty of the underwater world.

Through their nonprofit company, Divers4Heroes, the Lakeland couple for two years have offered free introductory diving lessons to any wounded veteran who wants to give the activity a try.

"The idea is to at least get them to try it once," said Debbie Twillman. "A lot of them don't think it's possible for them to learn to dive. They've either lost limbs or are paralyzed or have some other trauma, and they're convinced they can't do it. We're here to show them they can."

Indeed, through an extensive support system that includes volunteer divers around the state, the Twillmans introduced the sport to dozens of men and women, many of whom have gone on to obtain their own scuba certification.

The idea for the program came during a 2006 trip to Key West, where the Twillmans watched several Iraq war veterans attempting to negotiate Duval Street in wheelchairs and on crutches. Facing everyday life was one thing, but the couple also discovered that very few physical recreational programs existed for permanently disabled vets.

Using her marketing skills, Debbie Twillman began contacting local disabled veterans groups and established ties with the recreational rehabilitation program at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, which agreed to sponsor Divers4Heroes.

Meanwhile, Bo Twillman, an Army veteran and a dive instructor since 1993, set up a network of divers, instructors and dive shops around the state who wanted to help.

"The wonderful thing I discovered is that there are a lot of people out there like us who want to show their gratitude," Twillman said. "These are people who have sacrificed a lot for our country".

Other than permission from their doctors, participants in Divers4Heroes need not bring anything with them to dive. Pool time, tanks and wet suits are provided. As many 10 participants can take part in each class session.

Beginning dives are held in pools, but as divers gain more experience they are welcome to take part in open dives held at various locations around the state, including Ginnie Springs, Living Seas aquarium in Orlando as well as Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

On Thursday, the Twillmans accompanied three veteran divers in Weeki Wachee Springs as they completed the necessary course work to obtain their diving certificates.

Tamie White, like Roger Thomas, had never strapped on scuba tanks before she met the Twillmans. An 11-year Army veteran who suffered a back injury, diving offered her a release she hadn't felt in a long time.

"It's a wonderful weightless feel. I have no pain when I'm in the water," she said. "It's like I'm normal again."

Those want more information on Divers4Heroes can visit www.divers4heroes.org or call (863) 430-1334.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Nonprofit Divers4Heroes offers disabled veterans a chance to scuba dive 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 8:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan

    Blogs

    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  2. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  3. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  4. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.
  5. Told not to look, Donald Trump looks at the solar eclipse

    National

    Of course he looked.

    Monday's solar eclipse — life-giving, eye-threatening, ostensibly apolitical — summoned the nation's First Viewer to the Truman Balcony of the White House around 2:38 p.m. Eastern time.

    The executive metaphor came quickly.

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the solar eclipse from the Truman balcony of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 21, 2017. [Al Drago | New York Times]