If you’ve ever completely submerged yourself in water, you know that feeling of being weightless. It can bring a sense of freedom.
It's that freedom that Kari-Ann Melendez, president and co-founder of the Adapt-Able Foundation, shares with the disabled community. The organization has been using pools all over North Texas to help bring together adaptive and able-bodied people to experience scuba diving. But starting this November, Texas Wesleyan University will officially be its home pool.
After being in the Navy and retiring from working for the federal government, Melendez and her partner Dale Davis founded the Adapt-Able Foundation to give people with disabilities a chance to learn how to scuba dive in a safe and fun environment.
“We’ve given back our entire careers, and I think it’s in our DNA,” Melendez shared in a news cast. “This is the best way to do the second phase of our lives — to be able to give back and to work with people with disabilities and let them experience that passion, that excitement and that freedom — the physical freedom of scuba diving and the underwater world.”
That passion is now being shared with the TXWES community. Dr. Pam Rast, program director and kinesiology department chair at Texas Wesleyan, was contacted by Melendez to use TXWES’ pool for the Adapt-Able Foundation. Since the University already offers a minor and certification in scuba, the pool is fully equipped for the foundation to use.
“We're already offering scuba to our students, but now with this partnership, we can take it to the next level,” Rast said. “And it gives us a way to continue to show our students the power of diversity and engaging in our community.”
Laura Jeanne, a former Army pilot and scuba diver, learned about the foundation through the Department of Veteran Affairs. Jeanne, a founding member at large, became paraplegic after a horseback riding accident and says that the foundation has allowed her to scuba dive again.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to dive again,” she said. “It’s really freeing. When you’re in the water, you’re not tied to a chair or a prosthetic.”
With the partnership, TXWES students, staff and faculty can volunteer and learn with the Adapt-Able Foundation to get certified as a Dive Buddy — a term for a certified scuba diver that partners with a person with disabilities to help them scuba dive. Both buddies and the adaptive divers can become certified through the foundation’s programs.
“I was really excited that they wanted to use our pool because I was really impressed by the organization of the foundation,” Rast said. “We have a lot of faculty and students that are interested in adaptive activities and disability sports, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for them to get more exposure to that.”
Jeanne is also excited for the partnership, hoping that the TXWES community will volunteer with the program.
“It will be nice to not have to look for pools,” she said. “We’re going to have a relationship with one place.”
Melendez says that the foundation not only brings joy to the adaptable scuba divers, but the volunteers as well — a sentiment that is echoed by Rast.
“When we include everyone and make things more accessible for everyone, all of us benefit,” Rast said. “A lot of our students are athletes or very physically active, so the whole idea of understanding what it’s like to not be able to move the way they want to move is something I’ve tried to introduce them to. It gives them a respect and appreciation for differences.”
Rast also emphasized the importance of scuba for not only exercise, but socialization and community. Through this new opportunity, both students and participants of the foundation can come together to form better relationships within our greater Dallas-Fort Worth community.
“Exercise is medicine. Movement is medicine, no matter where you start,” Rast said. “Using water to be put in a weightless environment makes movement so much easier. But it’s not just about that — it’s the social interactions, which we also know are important to rehabilitation and health.”
The foundation also sponsors diving trips for the adaptive divers and buddies. They work to find places that have Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations around the world to bring opportunities to dive in new and exciting locations — something TXWES also wants students to experience.
Jeanne’s face lit up as she talked about the trips she’s taken with the foundation — places like the Cayman Islands, Key Largo and Hawaii. She said had she not had her accident, she would never have had some of the opportunities she’s had.
“I went to Hawaii and dived with a park ranger,” she smiled. “If I hadn’t had the accident, I wouldn’t have met these people. I wouldn’t have had these experiences.”
The partnership will kick off at a celebration reception on Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. at the TXWES pool located inside the Sid Richardson Center. For more information on the Adapt-Able Foundation, visit adapt-ablefoundation.org.
Pictured: Grace Nova, 16, tries scuba diving for the first time. Grace has many talents, including playing the piano. You can check out her TikTok at @thegracenova.
For more information, contact Texas Wesleyan University Director of Communications Strategy and Public Relations Tammy Evans-Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-531-5812.