Nonprofit provides adaptive scuba experiences for disabled community

Posted at 12:30 PM, Nov 03, 2021

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — People flock to the water underneath the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida.

The calming water is a stark contrast to the whirlwind the pandemic threw diver Wil Stanton's way.

Out of it came Thresher Aquatics, a nonprofit driven to providing adaptive scuba experiences for the disabled community.

"We take people with all disabilities," Stanton said. "Disabilities don't discriminate and neither do we."

Wil Stanton speaks about helping those with disabilities scuba dive
"We take people with all disabilities," Wil Stanton, the woman behind Thresher Aquatics, says. "Disabilities don't discriminate and neither do we."

Stanton said the effort behind Thresher Aquatics was inspired by a special friendship with a friend named Christina Ford and her family.

"Christina and I have been friends forever and I spend every day with her," Stanton said. "She's my sidekick, so we started this, pretty much, together."

Underwater, Ford and others defy gravity and the confines of a wheelchair.

"You get no pressure on your spine whatsoever, so you're gravity-free for, you know, the first time in weeks or months, sometimes ever," Stanton said.

The practice was a drop in the bucket for Ford, who's done more than 300 dives in the seven years she's been diving.

"I love the water," Ford said. "I love what we do here."

Beyond Riviera Beach, 20 of the divers have their sights set on a scuba trip to the Bahamas this month, sponsored by the Leeds Endowment.

Christina Ford helped out of water after scuba diving
Christina Ford is helped out of the water by Thresher Aquatics personnel after scuba diving underneath the Blue Heron Bridge in Phil Foster Park.

In preparation for the trip, Stanton said, before then, there's plenty for the others to learn.

"Everybody's gone through a lot of empathy training to kind of understand the amount of faith that people with disabilities are putting into you to go down and do this," she explained.

It's a brief escape from the worries of a world flipped by the pandemic and a reminder for Stanton that all people are connected.

"It's amazing," she said. "I usually cry at least one time when we're diving, just seeing everybody come together and do this."

The ocean is filled with tears of joy and many dives still left to go.

This story was originally published by Chris Gilmore at WPTV.