Do you scuba? Scuba diving is one sport where age won't hold you back

Monday, April 4, 2011
A hawksbill turtle pauses on a coral reef in the Turks & Caicos. (Photo by Fred Lynch)

For a landlocked state, Missouri has a surprising number of scuba divers. TBY chatted with five local scuba divers about how they dived into the hobby -- and why it's a sport anyone can enjoy.

Do it for the views

"Two-thirds of the world is covered with water," says Glen Faith, owner of the Mermet Springs diving destination in Southern Illinois. "If you don't know how to dive, what have you missed out on?" Faith says his wife is his best dive partner, and the two have dived all over the world with turtles, whales and even sharks.

"I can't wait until my sons are old enough to dive," he says. "Hopefully I can travel with them once a year and let them experience the things we have. I can't wait to hold my son's hand in the water and see a 12-foot shark pass us by. I want to see my son's face."

Cape Girardeau attorney Kevin Spaeth has scuba dived in Mexico, the British and American Virgin Islands, Florida, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Belize, to name a few.

A frogfish waits for prey on a tube sponge in the Turks & Caicos. (Photo by Fred Lynch)

"The underwater critter life is amazing, especially in the Caribbean," he says. Fellow attorney and diving partner John Heisserer also loves to see exotic underwater wildlife -- diving makes the difference between hovering above the water and actually interacting with the critters in their own environment, he says. It's the difference between looking into an aquarium and actually being in the aquarium, says Cape Girardeau diver Mark Hasheider.

Do it for the adventure

Jay Wolz of Cape Girardeau took an introductory scuba class 10 years ago while on vacation with his wife, and he's been hooked on the sport ever since.

"I was intrigued by it. I think it was being able to do something that could literally kill me if I didn't do it right," he says. "It's kind of a thrill to conquer something that can be dangerous. It's a lot of fun, too. Once you become accustomed to being underwater, and breathing and getting your buoyancy right, it's a different world."

Do it with your buddies

A Caribbean reef shark patrols a coral reef in the Turks & Caicos. (Photo by Fred Lynch)

Heisserer and Spaeth have been close friends since high school, and they took diving classes together after law school in the early 1980s. They've taken several dive trips since then, and Spaeth even got his wife Celeste into scuba diving. Heisserer and Spaeth joke freely about their adventures -- who saw the bigger shark, who dived deeper than whom -- and the walls of their office pay homage to the colorful creatures they've seen on the ocean floor.

Hasheider's four sons, and his future daughter-in-law, are all divers, while Wolz's daughter is also his main dive partner. And there's a camaraderie among divers, once strangers, who swap stories, compare notes, and recommend new dive locations.

Do it to help someone out

Hasheider began pursuing his scuba license before he even learned to drive a car. He still loves recreational diving, but as assistant fire chief in Cape Girardeau, he also leads the local dive team, using his skills to train others and to assist in dive rescue and recovery jobs.

"I enjoy being tasked. That cranks it up a little bit. I like the adrenaline rush," he says.

Do it for your health

Divers agree that age and athleticism have little, if anything, to do with scuba diving.

"Once you're in the water, you're weightless. If you have a bad knee or hip, once in you're in the water it takes all the stress off your body," says Faith. The water resistance, swimming motions, and the gear and weights needed for diving can actually help you stay in shape, says Hasheider.

"The great thing about scuba diving is that there is no age limit. You don't have to be in your best physical shape," adds Heisserer. In fact, he and Spaeth have met plenty of 80-year-old scuba divers, and they still laugh about the day Heisserer was mistaken for a Navy SEAL while diving in Honduras.

Divers should be good swimmers, says Spaeth, but they don't have to be "superathletes."

Do it to relax

"Diving is the most enjoyable, relaxing thing I've ever done in my life," says Faith. "There are no cell phones, no Internet, no bosses. It's just you and your diving buddy in the water. You're completely relaxed, and all the stress from every day is gone."

Relaxation is a motivating factor for the other divers interviewed, as well. There's no competition, no noise, no worries, and you don't even have to be fast.

"This is one sport where the slower you go, the longer it lasts," says Spaeth. When you're relaxed, he explains, you use less air and can stay underwater longer.

Do it because you can

Baby boomers and seniors are the target audience at Mermet Springs, says Faith -- and he does meet divers of all ages, all physical abilities, and from all over the country.

"By the mid-40s or 50s, the kids are usually out of the house or going to school, and mom and dad are looking for something to do. They want something fun and exciting that includes travel and warm destinations. The house and and cars are paid for and they have expendable income," says Faith. That's when they head to Mermet Springs as a destination in itself, or to hone their skills for diving in a more exotic location. "Retirement is when you're supposed to enjoy life and reap the rewards of the labors of your life. We see a lot of people in their 60s and 70s," says Faith.

Even if you don't want to travel far, there are plenty of places to dive in the Midwest. Faith describes Mermet Springs -- an abandoned rock quarry now full of water -- as an "underwater amusement park," complete with an old school bus, ambulance and jet sunk in the water and ready for exploration. Bonne Terre Mine is another popular dive location, and there are a number of dive lakes in Southwest Missouri and nearby Arkansas, say local divers.

"Don't pass it up because there are no Bahamas in your backyard," says Hasheider. "There are a lot of opportunities in our area, ones that you wouldn't expect in Missouri."

Do it now

The best way to "dive into" scuba is to take an introductory class, usually held in a swimming pool. For Mermet Springs classes, visit www.mermetsprings.com, and contact Glen Faith at (618) 527-DIVE or glen@mermetsprings.com. Fitness Plus of Cape Girardeau will partner with Mermet Springs for scuba classes this spring; contact Mermet for details.

HealthPoint Fitness will offer scuba classes this spring through Ozark Dive Co. of Southeast Missouri. Call HealthPoint at (573) 986-4400 for more information.

Southeast Missouri State University offers two-day scuba classes once a month during the school year. The next class is set for Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Student Aquatic Center. Call Chad Sierman at (573) 651-2290.

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