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The Smile Says it All

This past weekend a small group of divers from Diving with Heroes gathered at a volunteer’s house for a relaxed evening of food and fellowship. As the evening came to a close, we huddled together to watch a highlight video one of the fellow hero divers had put together of our recent excursion to Utila. Over the course of 17 minutes we relived our trip – laughing at the antics of the week, reminiscing about the friendships forged on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and thankful for the opportunity to dive.

One picture that stood out to all of us was of Neal, shirtless on the dive boat, smiling.

Luckily Neal and his wife Cindy had driven up from Georgia to join us for our picnic providing us the opportunity to tease Neal in-person about his “model shot.” We joked that Cindy had a copy of the photo blown up to which she adamantly replied, “I do; it sits by my bed.” Neal confirmed it was true.

That Neal’s wife of 30 years has his picture beside her bed is not shocking in the least. In fact, that’s a great place for it! But what she said about the picture blew me away...she said she loves the picture because Neal looks so happy. He was smiling, and he never does that. Wait, what!? That can’t be true! Granted, I’ve only had the pleasure of knowing Neal for the past four months but the week we were together in Utila, and the time I spent with him this past weekend, he smiled the whole time. How could his wife say something like that?

Cindy and Neal went on to explain that Neal loves diving (don’t all divers, though?); it is a therapeutic activity and underwater he finds peace. That is why Cindy lets Neal dive (a lot) – it is positively impacting him and his outlook on life; it is medicine for his soul that brings healing. And, evidently, he does not smile much when he is not diving. This is a sentiment expressed by many divers, especially by the veterans and service members Diving with Heroes has the pleasure to work with. Scuba diving is medicine, and it provides a unique environment where our injured veterans and service members can experience freedom and find peace.

A recent medical study undertaken by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK recently concluded that scuba diving can offer significant therapeutic benefits to combat-wounded military veterans. Participants of their study reported improvement in their levels of anxiety, depression and social functioning after engaging in organized scuba diving activities. Alumni from Diving with Heroes’ programs report the same but our interactions are brief and are largely centered around the sport that we mutually love. I don’t often get to see our hero divers outside of scuba events so to hear a spouse of a diver report that she sees the change in personality and how the sport positively impacts her husband’s life means a lot.

Cindy says it’s her favorite picture of Neal. Now, knowing what I know, it’s also mine.

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