The sky’s the limit for Jim Elliott, a man with a passion for the depths of the ocean and the beneficial effects it can have on those with disabilities.
“Scuba diving is the closest you can get to flying without a plane,” said Elliott. “It’s like being an astronaut. It’s so freeing for all individuals, but especially for those who are disabled. It gives us such freedom to be able to move without gravity.”
But Elliott’s not simply a fan of the sport—which he says less than one percent of the population has tried—he’s an advocate for the positive energy and confidence-building characteristics the sport provides.
BENEFITS BEYOND DIVING
After discovering the benefits scuba diving has for disabled people, Elliott started his own nonprofit in 2001 called Diveheart. Their mission: to build confidence, independence and self-esteem in the lives of children, adults and veterans with disabilities through scuba diving, scuba therapy and related activities. They work with a wide range of people, from children with autism to veterans who have lost limbs.
“I realized how powerful zero gravity is,” said Elliott. “I started seeing some of the results of how much healing it can provide through my work with Rotary Club’s around the world.”
Elliott has won several awards for his work. In 2013, he was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the West Suburban Philanthropic Network (WSPN).
He gave up a flourishing media career with the Chicago Tribune, WGN Radio and CLTV News to follow his dream. Elliott started as a full-time volunteer teaching individuals with disabilities how to scuba dive. Having taught his blind daughter Erin how to ski when she was nine-years-old, he wondered what else the less able might be able to do. As CEO of Diveheart, he now works seven days a week, yet doesn’t draw a salary. Something he believes all nonprofit leaders should consider.
Based in Downers Grove, Diveheart has gone global with centers in China, the U.K and Australia. As well as running scuba classes and opportunities for the disabled in pools they also organize trips.
“We just took 38 people to Cozumel in Mexico,” Elliott said. “One of them, Amber Rangel, had been a champion water skier until a jump left her as a quadriplegic. When we took her scuba diving it was her first time back in the water. It was so powerful.”
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
If all that were not enough, Elliott is now planning the next stage in the Diveheart journey. He is hoping to build the first 150 foot deep warm water pool on the continent in the Western Suburbs. The project will cost $100 million but he is already looking at potential sites and believes it will become a reality. Research has shown that the body releases an extra output of serotonin below 66 feet, so the deeper the pool the more beneficial it will be to divers and researchers alike.
“We have worked with spinal patients who say they are free from pain at these depths,” said Elliott. In the deep warm water pool, the divers would be 30 feet above grade with the rest below, kind of like a giant aquarium without fish. “It’s great to see so many lives being touched. It can move you to tears,” said Elliott. “It’s not just about scuba diving, it’s about helping people imagine the possibilities in their lives. If they can scuba dive, what else can they do? I want to create a paradigm shift. It’s not just about helping the disabled physically, it’s about seeing what else they can do.”
For more information visit www.diveheart.org.