Cozumel Island & Diving Adventure

 

In December 2011, Super Chairing president and action adventure enthusiast, John “J2” Mryczko, together with his girlfriend and Super Chairing director Joanna Mikosz, took a trip to the tropical, sunny island of Cozumel, Mexico for a scuba diving adventure with Diveheart. Diveheart is a nonprofit organization which assists individuals with disabilities to scuba dive.

ABOUT COZUMEL
Cozumel is a small island off of the east coast of Mexico. It lies in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, which along with impeccable conditions for the growth of spectacular coral reefs makes it one of the most sought after scuba diving spots in the world. With dozens reefs, the waters are teeming with a variety of colorful tropical fish, delicate elaborate coral and anemone, and other ocean creatures which make for breathtaking and eventful dives. With these spectacular in-ocean views, Super Chairing couldn't’t resist this once in a lifetime trip and set out on a mission to bring awe-inspiring video footage and an amazing front page report to Super Chairing fans.

   
Video above is a preview of Cozumel Diving Adventure. Full videos down bellow.
 
 

HOW THE TRIP BEGAN
Super Chairing set out for a four-hour plane flight from icy cold and windy Chicago and arrived in warm and sunny Cozumel. They could feel the 53-degree temperature difference as soon as they exited the plane. They went through customs and waited for one of very few wheelchair taxis on the island. After a short 15-minute ride they arrived at Hotel Cozumel, a 5-star resort where many divers often stay at due to its proximity to the dive shop and coast.

After checking in and settling into their room, John & Joanna went to the hotel pool grill and bar just in time for a delicious dinner of chicken fajitas and pina coladas with their fellow Diveheart divers. They mingled and got to know about each other’s lives, backgrounds and previous diving experiences. The divers comprised a truly spectacular group of people from all over the world, including the US, Australia and Japan, who were all truly dedicated to assisting individuals with disabilities in scuba diving.

This particular group of disabled divers included 5 men with a passion for diving and a love for the freedom brought by being in the water. Quadriplegic John "J2" was the only high level injury out of the group, with a C5 spinal cord injury. Greg suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while in the military overseas. Gabe started losing his sight several years ago and is legally blind, but has continued diving with over 40 years of diving experience. Ian Brown is a low level paraplegic who sustained his injury from a motorcycle accident while serving in the Air Force. Darrell became semi paralyzed after having surgery on his back a few years ago, but is now mobile with the assistance of a walker.

As a gorgeous sunset disappeared into the horizon, Diveheart’s president, Jim Elliot, and fellow Diveheart directors and volunteers began to discuss the weeks dive plan. These volunteers comprised an experienced group of divers who would be the dive buddies to both novice divers as well as to divers with disabilities or limited mobility. The following morning and first day of diving began with some training in shallow waters near the coast, and the divers headed out for their first adventurous day of diving.

 
             

WHAT A TYPICAL DIVE DAY LOOKED LIKE
Each dive day started with an early 6:30 am wake up call. All of the divers met for breakfast at 7:30 am at the hotel’s main restaurant, and headed to the dive shop across the street around 8:00 am where the diving equipment and boat docks were located. A large cabana was conveniently located near the coast where divers could prepare their equipment such as BC vest and air tanks and get into their wet suits. At this time, the amazing efforts of Diveheart’s organization started to emerge, as everyone worked together to help the disabled divers get comfortable in their gear and ready for their dives. Around 9 am, a special dive boat equipped with dozens of full air tanks, benches for divers, and dive masters arrived to take the divers to the dive locations. Once the boat had docked, all of the diveheart volunteers and the dive master’s boat crew presented a spectacular effort as they helped the divers out of their wheelchairs or walkers safely into the boat.

Once everyone was settled, the dive boat set off into deep waters towards the incredible dive spots. Everyone enjoyed the boat ride on the way to the dive site. Once there, everyone began to help each other suit up and do final checks. Then the dive master took a few minutes to identify the location and what the divers could see during the dive, as well as to explain the dive plan to all of the divers so that everyone was in sync. Once everyone was ready, they teamed up with their dive buddies to jump into the water. Once again, the spectacular efforts of the highly trained volunteers of Diveheart shone through as they safely and properly assisted each of the disabled drivers out of the boat into the water, guided their dives, and then back out of the water onto the boat. These tasks were smoothly executed, taking divers in and out of their wheelchairs or helping them step onto the boat safely.
Each dive day consisted of 2 dives, ranging from 45-60 minutes. The divers took a break in between the dives to remove some of their gear, warm up, hydrate and rejuvenate with water, cookies and fruit provided by the dive boat crew. Depending on the length of travel time to each spot and length of the dives, the boat returned between 3:00-5:00 pm. The Diveheart volunteers assisted the disabled divers back onto the dock and everyone helped remove each other’s gear. Once the gear was hung up to dry and the equipment was properly stored away, everyone returned to the hotel to shower off the salt water and rest before meeting back up for dinner.
   

WHAT DIVERS SAW
They went diving on the reefs such as San Juan, Paradise, Colombia Reefs and San Francisco Wall.
They saw angel fish, eels, crabs, lobsters, tiger sharks, lion fish, starfish, and sea horses among other magnificent aquatic life. Many of the anemones were bright and colorful, but signs of damage from the cruise ships, diving boats and divers are evident. For the most part, visibility was great and the temperature of the water was on the mid to high 80s, allowing at least 30-40 minutes at a time of comfortable diving. Long boat trips out to the reefs off of the windy coast were a challenge for some with temperature regulation problems.

EXTRAS
Two filmmakers shooting a documentary for PBS came to Cozumel to follow Diveheart’s adventures for a couple of days. Swimming in shallow and deep waters to catch as much footage as possible, the film makers and the dive team descended about 40 feet each dive, and caught all of the awesome sights of the dive including the reefs and aquatic life. All of the divers huddled together to pose for a large group picture at the bottom of the ocean during the final underwater dive moments on day two. In addition to their footage, a woman on the dive crew who specialized in filming also dove with us. She used her underwater camera to take amazing footage of the divers and the reefs and made DVDs of her movie to provide Diveheart’s divers with.

ADVENTURES ON LAND
Every other day, Joanna and John were able to explore the hotel and the down town area of Cozumel. A short “chair” from the hotel, they were able to experience gorgeous views, stunning sunsets, stellar nighttime skies, and the culture of the island in tasty restaurants and the tourist shops. With a major cruise ship dock located in the downtown area, the town had a plentiful shopping area that included shopping malls, tourist stands, dive shops, hotels and grocer/department stores. John and Joanna found the tourist vendors to be the most amusing, as they tried their hardest to sell the couple random items made of fish bone, jewelry made of local minerals and gems, and other Mexican clothes and knickknacks, all while sweetening them up with gratis shots of a delicious local tequila made from almonds.

John and Joanna dined at a couple of restaurants in the downtown area when the hotel food got to be too much to bear (how many chicken fajitas and beans can you eat?). They explored local seafood joints and even an Italian restaurant called Prima. Prima was a magnificent pick, with a delicious “Mexican pizza,” they sat on 9th floor, with the view of the ocean filled with cruise ships on the backdrop of a breathtaking sunset to the west, and after nightfall a dazzling view of the urbanized reaches of the island studded with lights.

The hotel staff was very accommodating and friendly. One of them even took Joanna and John out to meet other fun people in the hotel, engage in activities presented by the hotel, and take them clubbing. Joanna and John both played and won Bingo, scoring prizes such as a bottle of tequila and a Hotel Cozumel T-shirt. Curious of Cozumelian nightlife, they headed out on their last night to a nearby bar and then a club called Dubai. They met there another couple there who were also staying at the hotel. They had a few beers together at a bar then went next door into Dubai nightclub where everyone got their dance and roll on to the techno dance music. Luckily for the girls, it was also ladies night and they took full advantage of the free Jose Cuervo. At 1am it was time for everyone to end the exciting night and head back to the hotel.

 
 
That same morning and after some sleep it was time for John and Joanna to pack their bags and get ready for their 2pm flight back to Chicago. They had one last breakfast with some of the Diveheart crew who were also leaving that day. Overall their Cozumel Island and underwater adventure was a success. They met wonderful new people, had lots of laughs, went on many underwater adventures, and saw and did things they never had before.

John and Joanna thank Diveheart for the amazing opportunity to scuba dive with them. Diveheart is a wonderful organization that helps people like John to feel free of the confines of their wheelchairs and of gravity, and actually be able to stand underwater without assistance. They are able to elongate their spines and move their muscles in ways they would never be able to on land. Scuba diving with Diveheart is an amazing opportunity for disabled action seekers and we recommend it to everyone, with pain or without! A special thank you goes out too divers Jim Elliot, Scott Rustand, Mike O’Brian, Dawn Engler, John Koons, Mike Hamel, Darrell Young, Greg Rogriguez, Gabe Spataros, June Stahl, Ian Brown, Debby Miller, James Whaley, Henry Mack, Gilles Gougeon, Phil Shepherd, Greg Kiefer and Janice Strayve and dive masters Israel, Santos and Marcos. Thank you for sharing this amazing experience with us and for all of your generous help and kind spirits!