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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

April 21, 2017  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Scubi Jews, disabled divers, both find joy under water

Jewish Press report


Ellie Foden, a member of the Eckerd College Scubi Jew diving club helps a disabled diver navigate in the waters off Key Largo during an alternative Spring Break trip. Ellie Foden, a member of the Eckerd College Scubi Jew diving club helps a disabled diver navigate in the waters off Key Largo during an alternative Spring Break trip. When Kenny Menendez, a longtime Florida resident, suffered a spinal cord injury in a bicycle accident in Orlando two and a half years ago, he lay in a hospital bed with two disheartening thoughts – that not only would he not walk again, but he also would never scuba dive again.

Menendez, 42, worked in a dive shop before the accident and still works there. He also had been an avid scuba diver for 15 years, but he dismissed the possibility of returning to the water and a year passed before he even got into a pool again.

“I guess I could have curled up into a ball,” Menendez said, but through a program called Diveheart, he realized he could get back under the water. For many divers, the gravity-free environment is both liberating and relaxing, and even more so for paraplegics like him, he said.


Students help a disabled woman prepare for a dive, which includes an in-depth conversation about the adaptive diver’s special needs and desires. Students help a disabled woman prepare for a dive, which includes an in-depth conversation about the adaptive diver’s special needs and desires. Menendez was one of six disabled divers who last month went on a scuba diving trip to the Florida Keys with seven members of the Scubi Jew diving club at Eckerd College for an “Adaptive Diving” alternative spring break.

Prior to the trip, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, campus rabbi at Eckerd and a scuba diver for more than 30 years, joined with the student divers to ready themselves for the trip. They all took a rigorous, 54- hour training course, in classrooms and in the water, to earn “Adaptive Diving” certification through the Diveheart organization.

The spring break trip was expected to be rewarding for the disabled adults and it was. Menendez summed up the experience in one word: “fantastic.” But the experience also turned out to be just as rewarding for the Scubi Jew members.


Members of the Eckerd College Scubi Jew diving club with the disabled divers. Members of the Eckerd College Scubi Jew diving club with the disabled divers. “The Adaptive Diving trip really opened my eyes to new experiences and how deeply the act of helping people could impact me,” said Ellie Foden, an Eckerd College freshman. “It was amazing to see these adaptive divers swimming underwater; they looked like flying super heroes to me. I made so many beautiful connections to the people at Diveheart, the adaptive divers, and my fellow Scubi Jews. I learned so much on this trip about teamwork, trust and compassion. I will cherish the memories for this experience for a long time to come.”

Added another Eckerd freshman, Ariele Dashow, “This trip was one of the best kinds of Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) service opportunities you could give to a college student. The lasting impact that diving has on anyone is something that stays with them for a lifetime, and to be able to give that experience to someone who isn’t as able-bodied as you is extremely rewarding. From this trip, I learned so much more than how to dive as an adaptive buddy; I gained empathy, patience and a greater sense of leadership.”


Kenny Menendez enjoys the freedom of floating over Molasses Reef near Key Largo. Kenny Menendez enjoys the freedom of floating over Molasses Reef near Key Largo. Rabbi Rosenthal executive director of Hillels of the Suncoast and founder of Scubi Jew, was also greatly affected by the experience. “Without a doubt, this was one of the most physically demanding, but extremely rewarding things I have ever done in my life, both as a rabbi and a scuba diver,” he said. “The effect that the scuba diving experience has on the adaptive divers is surreal, and to see the positive impact it has on them psychologically and emotionally is incredibly gratifying.”

The rabbi said he plans to further expand the adaptive dive program through Scubi Jew into the local community with the help of Diveheart.

During the trip, Menendez said he dove on Molasses Reef off Key Largo three times and loved every minute – not only the experience of being able to move so much better than on land, but the “wide-eyed enthusiasm” of the Eckerd students. They clearly enjoyed helping him and other disabled divers and the sights and sensations of the dive itself.

Menendez said that every day he is looking for a reason to get out of his wheelchair. At his rehab sessions, he uses robotic legs to stand and move around as well as parallel bars for mobility. But the freedom of movement in the water is the best, he said.

That is exactly why the nonprofit Diveheart was founded. “We’ve discovered the forgiving, weightless wonder of the water column provides the perfect gravity free environment for those who might otherwise struggle on land. Underwater, we’re all equal,” the Diveheart website notes. “We help participants believe that if they can scuba dive they can do anything.”


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