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updated: 3/11/2013 11:09 AM

Individuals with Disabilities Scuba Dive with Whale Sharks at Georgia Aquarium

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  • Scuba divers with disabilities traveled with Downers Grove-based Diveheart to scuba dive with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium.

    Scuba divers with disabilities traveled with Downers Grove-based Diveheart to scuba dive with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium.
    submitted by Diveheart

Wendy Foster

Kiel Brown of Bolingbrook had the adventure of a lifetime as the result of the generosity of an Atlanta-area teenager. Brown, who is a self-proclaimed animal lover, went scuba diving with whale sharks, Manta rays and other exotic sea creatures in the Georgia Aquarium.

Brown was one of three divers with disabilities who traveled with Diveheart to the aquarium. Downers Grove-based Diveheart provides scuba diving instruction and opportunities to children, adults and veterans with disabilities. Thirty-year old Brown, who sustained a traumatic brain injury when he was 17, is an ardent scuba diver and a volunteer with Diveheart. He is also a spokesperson for Diveheart, having experienced the benefits of scuba diving. "I feel better after I've been scuba diving. I usually have pain as a result of my accident, but when I get out of the water, I don't have pain, sometimes for days," he said. "Diveheart has helped me to know that I can do certain things I never thought I could do. It raises me up. I've had the most amazing dives and I always know that I'm safe with people with Diveheart."

Thirteen-year old Atlanta resident Zack Bernstein decided that Diveheart would be the beneficiary of a service project for his bar mitzvah, because of his interest in scuba diving, and his compassion for individuals with disabilities. "I wanted to do this project because I love to scuba dive and I think it is awesome that kids and adults with disabilities can love diving as much as I do. They also get the added benefit of being free from their disability while they are diving. It's cool," said Zack.

Last August, he worked with SeaVentures in Atlanta, which hosted Diveheart for a fundraising event.

"I was completely amazed when I heard about this young man's plans to support our organization," said Jim Elliott, president/founder of Diveheart. "We love it when young people are inspired by Diveheart and the impact that we have on peoples' lives, and we're in turn inspired when they are motivated to give back in the way that Zack is doing." Over the past six months, Zack has raised more than $15,000 in donations for Diveheart.

Traveling with Brown to Atlanta were Gregorio Rodriguez, a Marine veteran who sustained a traumatic brain injury; Evelyn Felipez of Lake Villa, a 15-year old girl with spina bifida; and Jim Elliott. The divers were scuba diving in the aquarium while Zack was having his bar mitzvah party on-site. "There were people at the party watching us as we were diving. That was fun. It was just amazing to have all of the people watching," said Brown. "We were entertaining people on the other side of the glass and they were entertaining us."

Brown said that his experience was wonderful. "I love animals and there I was scuba diving with whale sharks swimming right above me. It was amazing," he said.

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