Jim Elliot, creator of the original Diveheart Foundation, conceived the idea seven years ago as a means to find new ways of overcoming disabilities. The program has since spread across the country, inspiring HydroSports Dive and Travel owner Mark Fischer to begin his own branch. In the spring of 2007, Fischer worked with founders to bring Diveheart to the Northwest. He hoped to extend his passion for scuba diving to those who face obstacles on land.

“Someone can still experience scuba diving with a disability. They have mobility underwater,” Fischer said.

The program also offers a Handicapped Scuba Association Instructor and Buddy Certification course in underwater training. The $250 cost of training includes an instruction manual, registration and a C-card. Becoming a Diveheart Certified Buddy requires a 3-day intensive workshop. Through interactive lectures, potential instructors learn about different types of disabilities and training procedures.

Training culminates in a role reversal, as the class spends six hours underwater with imposed “handicaps.” Experiencing what handicapped individuals face prepares the instructors for real situations, Fischer said.

“In order to simulate blindness, we have them wear a blackout mask. To experience the standpoint of a paraplegic, we take a weight belt and bind the ankles. We practice these skills in the swimming pool to practice the role of the diver and the guide.”

The next training course will take place from Jan. 18-20. For information or to register visit diveheartnorthwest.com.