Scuba diving a reality for disabled thanks to Imagine Diving

  • Written by Claudia Parker

reporter-4-col-scubaSeveral members of Imagine Diving pose during a bowling fundraiser for the program. Photo by Claudia Parker  Families of children and adults with special needs participated in a candlelight bowling fundraiser in Tinley Park Saturday, hoping to pick up more than a spare.

  Attendees dove into their pockets to keep scuba students diving in more than just their dreams. Imagine Diving is making scuba a reality for the disabled with the help of Evergreen Park High School donating the use of its pool.
  Bob Hemedinger, president of Imagine Diving started this non-profit organization.
  “When my niece, disabled at the age of nine and unable to walk since, expressed an interest in scuba after hearing about my dives, it was easy enough to say ‘why not?’” he said.
  The program was launched after Hemedinger gained seven-years experience volunteering for another organization. The impact on the families they serve was expressed with gratitude.
  Hickory Hills’ Diana Damme’s seventeen-year-old son, Johnny, started diving at the age of 14. Johnny has Down Syndrome but his activities are not limited. Johnny’s been in the Special Olympics program through the Oak Lawn Park District for several years. He enticed his 20-year-old sister, Danielle, to learn scuba. Before the two of them became diving partners, Johnny was the only one in his family that could do it. The half-moon sized smile on his face spoke volumes as he listened to his mother, Diana, speaking about his diving abilities.
  Palos Hills’ Geana Barnard came to learn about the program during hydrotherapy for her 32-year-old son, Ryan Johnson. He suffered a traumatic brain injury September of 2010 during a car accident. The severity of his injuries left his right side paralyzed. Bernard had 16 years experience diving but left that and her career behind to devote fulltime care to Johnson.
  “Imagine Diving has helped our family on multiple levels,” she said. “Ryan can’t move his right side but when he’s diving, both sides function. It’s miraculous!”
  Johnson’s eyes had a sparkle as he talked about the best part about diving for him.
  “It’s the best way to relax,” he said. “I want others to discover scuba and know there isn’t anything you can’t do.”
  Evergreen Park’s Tom Luebke was at the event with his 12-year-old son, Sam, who’s cognitively and physically disabled. Sam has been diving since January.
  “Sam’s physical disabilities cause his him to lose stability but being in the water causes him to forget,” Tom said.
  Tom described a recent dive he and Sam took at Haigh Quarry in Kankakee. Excitedly, Tom said: “At one point, I looked over at Sam and he was surrounded by nearly a hundred fish.”
  He then used his hands to measure a foot saying, “This big!”
  Imagine Diving also offers support to veterans.
  Chicago Ridge’s Emily Griffith’s son, Chris LeClair is a sergeant in the Marine Corps.
  After a tour in Afghanistan he experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  “The saddest part as a mom was knowing my son needed help and not knowing how to reach him emotionally,” Emily said. “The water brought Chris healing, it was his therapy.”
  The program’s emphasis is on bringing families together.
  “Families of the disabled go through enough of being told what they can’t do,” Hemedinger said. “It’s inspirational to see the effort and determination when we show them what they can do.”
  To learn more about the program, visit