BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – A Bakersfield scuba diving club offers unique training for disabled veterans. Dozens of them are jumping into their local pool to get scuba diving certifications.
The Aquanut Divers is central valley’s largest scuba diving club. It has more than 400 local divers – most of whom were trained by the club’s founder and lead instructor, Eric Schimon. Schimon has been diving since 1999 and holds over 60 scuba certifications.
“We started this program with the hopes of helping out our disabled veterans,” he said. “These american heroes of ours, the men and women behind me, they sacrificed some of their health and safety to go to war or join the military to basically protect our freedoms as americans.”
Aquanut divers began the Veterans Empowered Through Scuba project in 2017. This division of the club is funded by the community and allows six disabled veterans each year to take diving courses.
“Water’s always been a healing aspect of my life, even prior to my military service I spent a lot of time in the water, whether it was swimming laps on the swim team, or going fishing with my dad, said Andy Selga, an Army veteran. “So scuba diving was another way to go even further, go underneath the water and explore the life that I’ve already been experiencing from the top side.”
Saturday’s training session was in the pool at Lakeside Elementary. Soon, the vets will leave for Catalina Island, where they’ll get their open-water training. After that, each vet can get their scuba certifications. They have the choice between open water, advanced, rescue, and specialty diving.
“I’m so excited to get my permit,” Selga said. “The plan for when I get my permit. After that’s completed after I go to Catalina Island I plan to take advantage as much as I can from the resources that aquanut program has to offer.”
The club also offers disabled veterans free boat trips every year to Catalina or the Channel Islands to continue diving. Schimon says the goal is to lower stress levels and build teamsmanship.
“We get appreciation from these veterans all the time, they’re real excited they can learn something new,” he said. “They get to fill their time with a new activity, and it takes away from the stress of maybe what they suffered when they were in the military.”
If you’d like to donate, send an email to Eric Schimon. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.