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'Dive with a Cop' gives children, adults with disabilities opportunity to experience something new

by Layne Stracener | February 5, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Vickie Coon helps Devin Kitchens put on his diving mask during the annual “Dive with a Cop” event on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022 at the Knowles YMCA in Jefferson City, Mo. This was Kitchens’ first time participating in the event which gives kids with disabilities a chance to scuba dive. (Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo)

Scuba Adventure in Jefferson City and the Mid-Missouri Sheriff's Dive Team hosted the annual "Dive with a Cop" event at the Knowles YMCA Saturday evening for children and adults with disabilities.

The free event gave people with disabilities the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive. Participants had a certified diving partner at all times and were monitored by scuba diving instructors and rescue divers. Several law enforcement agencies attended to interact with the divers.

Sheriff Chris Heitman, who has volunteered for Special Olympics since he was 18, started this event six years ago after becoming a scuba instructor. With a passion for Special Olympics and scuba diving, he decided to merge the two together.

He partnered with Scuba Adventure to give people with disabilities the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive.

"I reached out to Special Olympics our first year and we got some disabled divers here, and it's just kept growing ever since," he said.

The goal of the event, Heitman said, is to give people with disabilities a fun experience they normally wouldn't get to have, such as people in wheelchairs experiencing what it's like to be weightless in the water.

"It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done," Heitman said.

Amanda Johnson, director of Dive with a Cop, said the event has gained more interest each year.

"The goal is to allow children and adults with any level of physical or intellectual disability to be able to get into the water and feel that environment of limitless, weightless mobility," she said.

Two local law enforcement officers are placed with each special-needs person, allowing each participant to have people watching for facial cues and making sure their equipment is operating correctly.

"There's a lot of things these kids don't get to do that their peers get to do, so this is something that they get to do that most of their peers maybe haven't tried," Johnson said.

If the participants are interested in scuba diving after the event, Scuba Adventure offers classes to allow them to learn and experience more.

"It helps law enforcement learn to work with adaptive individuals, and it also helps these kids experience something pretty amazing," Johnson said.

Johnson said she appreciates the community's support and would love to see it continue and grow.

"We are turning (Dive with a Cop) into a nonprofit, so it won't so much be an event thrown by Scuba Adventure; it'll be its own nonprofit here soon," she said. "We'll be trying to raise as much money as we can to help a lot of these kids experience diving in the ocean or diving in different environments."

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