It was 2007, a year that profoundly altered David Lawrence Sr.’s life. His son, David Jr., was diagnosed with a brain tumor, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down post-surgery. Yet today, against all odds, David Jr. runs, walks, and lives life to the fullest, thanks to intensive rehabilitation that included a unique therapy – Scuba Diving. This remarkable turnaround inspired Lawrence to establish The Scuba Gym, a project aimed at helping people with special needs discover therapeutic benefits beneath the water’s surface.
The Birth of The Scuba Gym
While David Lawrence Sr. had a successful career as a CTO at a bank and IT consultant, it was his personal journey with his son’s recovery that sparked his transition from technology to therapeutic scuba diving. Lawrence noticed the substantial improvement in his son’s condition when participating in Scuba Diving and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), both of which Lawrence realized were extremely beneficial to brain injury recovery.
Moved by his son’s experience, Lawrence launched The Scuba Gym in honor of “Scuba Jr.,” aiming to bring the therapeutic benefits of scuba diving to those with special needs.
The initiative caters to individuals with a range of conditions, including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida, Hypotonia, and paralysis.
Global Reach and Local Impact
Since its inception, The Scuba Gym has expanded from its initial base to additional locations in Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina, and even as far afield as Sydney, Australia, with plans to open another Australian location soon. These facilities operate similarly to the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), requiring a NAUI instructor at every therapy session to uphold stringent safety and therapeutic standards.
Therapy, Not Certification
However, Lawrence is keen to dispel common misconceptions about The Scuba Gym’s mission. Contrary to the belief that it is an adaptive program aimed at certifying divers, The Scuba Gym’s primary goal is to provide therapy. Scuba diving serves as a tool to achieve therapeutic goals, not the end goal itself.
While traditional therapy often focuses on one body part at a time, Scuba Gym’s underwater therapy exercises the entire body simultaneously. Lawrence highlights the cognitive benefits too, explaining how activities such as retrieving specific colored golf balls from the pool floor can improve focus, reduce external stimuli, and teach relaxation techniques.
Every participant, referred to as Special Adventures for Special People (SASP) Diver, receives a personalized therapy program tailored to their needs. Some might adapt to underwater activities swiftly, while others might require a gradual approach. Nevertheless, once they become comfortable underwater, the transformative impact is profound.
“Parents get to see their children relax, sleep better, and calm their minds post-therapy, which not only benefits the SASP diver but also helps lighten the load the parent or loved one is carrying” Lawrence says. He emphasizes the confidence boost SASP divers gain, being able to accomplish something as challenging as scuba diving, which is an immense source of pride to the SASP diver and also the parent or loved ones who care for them.
Volunteer Involvement and Future Prospects
The Scuba Gym’s success is also attributable to its dedicated volunteers. Starting with an internship, they gradually progress to working alongside experienced Scuba Gym instructors before independently guiding SASP divers underwater. Lawrence proudly endorses the NAUI’s adaptive program, asserting that it’s among the best globally. The Scuba Gym continues to uphold NAUI’s standards, serving as a beacon of hope and resilience for hundreds of people across multiple continents.
As Lawrence’s innovative approach to therapy continues to gain traction, The Scuba Gym remains committed to its mission: to empower individuals with special needs, providing them not only with therapy but also a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence that transcends the pool and permeates their daily lives.
David Lawrence started a non-profit foundation, Scuba 4 Life, in 2016 to complement the Scuba Gym. If you wish to assist in the continued therapy opportunities for special needs individuals, you can do so through financial donations or being a volunteer. More information and contact info can be found at https://www.thescubagym.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheScubaGym or you can email at Dive@thescubagym.com