Shannon S. — Senior SCUBAnaut Second Class — AAUS D-30
They called me “The Ringer.” I hadn’t a clue how I stumbled upon that nickname because I had never split the dive sign before. In fact, for the past three years I wasn’t even close to hitting the sign straight on. Yet, this was my last summer trip with SCUBAnauts International and I was determined to live up to my new identification.
It has become an annual tradition where a small group of Nauts’ head to the Naval Air Station in Key West for a navigation challenge with the organization Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge. Each teenage science diver was paired with a veteran in hopes that the duo would create a mentoring-based relationship. While the SCUBAnauts taught veterans proper diving techniques, CWVC reciprocated knowledge on orienteering and motivation.
This year, I had two chances to run through the underwater navigation course. My first pairing was with a double leg amputee Chris Corbin aka “Jesus.” Our team finished a 500-meter swim in first place, with a time of 13 minutes and only 10 meters off of our vantage point. Justin Lansford, a veteran who lost his left leg in a roadside bombing, was my second buddy. Determined to do as well as the day before, we completed our 750-meter swim, earning a perfect score of 100. To this day, Lansford brags about beating “Jesus” with his own buddy, LOL!
Each day started out with assigning buddy teams. The dive teams were given a buoy marker (mine was appropriately labeled #1, both days), a buddy line, and a tac board. Inside the classroom we were briefed on the dive. Basically, we were to be dropped off anywhere from 500-750 meters from shore and our goal was to hit the coast directly in front of a giant dive sign. Before entering the water, buddy teams trained on dry land and within the pool, learning and understanding roles and equipment.
Flash-forward to mid-dive, my legs hurt, my breathing became more frequent, and subconsciously I began thinking I was off track. There was a strong steady current pushing us north, which was bad news because my campus pointed almost dead West. At this point in the swim a key phrase rung loud in my head “Trust your equipment,” and sure enough what had been preached in the classroom was a wise piece of advice. In pitch black, murky water, and a good two feet from the surface, I peered up at the shore – both dives – dazed and confused. However when I swiveled my head, it became clear that the sign was directly to my right and a whole entourage was there to witness “The Ringer” live up to her name.
I felt exhilarated, proud and accomplished. Winning first place once, can be pure luck, but winning twice means that you have some true skills. I cannot thank SNI enough for giving me experiences like such that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Nor can I express enough gratitude toward CWVC. The mentorship that forms on these dive trips in no way ends with summer, but in fact continues over the years to come.