Scuba Diving Helps Wounded Veterans

Cody Unser, paralyzed at 12, shares how scuba diving helped her heal

The photo is of Cody Unser, diving at a pool event in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her story is a touching one…

She says:

I was paralyzed almost two decades ago at age 12. I understand full well how difficult it is to absorb cliché lines like, “Take it one day at time.” For me, slowing time down to a 24-hour period made the process of coming to terms with my paralysis more difficult – not easier. Mentally, the feeling of wanting to be numb paired with confusion over what the future might bring is so daunting. Tomorrow seems too far away and yet it comes too quickly.

After the devastating 9/11 attacks, many of my young peers were sent into battle and came back with blown-off limbs, traumatic brain injuries and horrific flashbacks that looped over and over in their minds. The war they continued to fight and the depression they dealt with daily could not be silenced. Medication may help, but it comes with its own long list of side effects.

Being from the world of auto racing, I find many similarities between those who satisfy their need for speed by choosing Top Gun-like military careers and those who pursue racing, like the many men in my family have.

While their mission may be different, the adrenaline-fueled race car drivers I’ve known share much in common with the wounded soldiers I’ve befriended while attending different disability conferences around the country.

Cody found scuba diving to be the most helpful therapeutic experience.

Because of her desire to help others heal she founded the Adaptive Scuba Program through her foundation.

Cody goes on to say:

Our volunteer dive team, Operation Deep Down, comprising of retired and active duty military members, travels with me across the country and sometimes to international waters to help our nation’s wounded veterans feel the incredible suspension scuba diving offers.

I was 13 years old when I first dove. It was a year after I became paralyzed. Scuba diving was the only thing that gave me peace in a world where all I saw at every turn was NO. Christopher Reeve always said, “Nothing is Impossible.” I never fully understood the power of those words until I surfaced from my first certification dive in Cozumel, Mexico.

She also mentioned how you “can’t put the ocean in a pill” and how being in the ocean through scuba diving is a freeing experience. For us who

The happiest moments I’ve ever had are when I’m 100 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, hearing nothing but my own breathing for 40 minutes at a time. It’s amazing to look over and see my family, knowing that even though they are using fins on their feet to propel themselves through the water – and I use webbed gloves – I am no different physically than they are, a distinction that can’t be ignored on land. Scuba diving allows the body and mind to be free from the mechanical embrace of a wheelchair.

No pill or session of talk therapy has taught me more about how to pause my demons than the freedom my body has without the demand of gravity. To be able to share this feeling with members of our military who have been injured continues to be a privilege and opens my eyes to the extent that mental wounds, such as PTSD, can hamper a person’s life just as much as physical wounds can.

The moment the world shuts off above, all the worries that puzzle the mind on land disappear. The training required to become scuba certified is intense – it’s an extreme sport, after all – and the fear of something going wrong underwater forces all one’s energy and focus on only one thing.

The frustrating part is to witness how scuba diving helps wounded veterans heal, and yet to know that funding for programs like these has been limited. As a graduate student studying public health and learning how to quantify what programs are cost effective, I appreciate the importance of evidence-based research but also understand how painstakingly long it can take to prove a program’s benefit. The fact remains: We are losing those who have protected our country’s values at an alarming rate to suicide and we owe them a fighting chance at living a full life.


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