From the personal to the global, PADI is working to make scuba diving a force for good in the world, and the program at this year’s DEMA-Eve social provided powerful examples of what that can look like.

The night began with guest speaker Grant Korgan, who shared the story of how scuba had a profound impact on his life after a major spinal injury nearly cost him the use of his legs. It concluded with a ceremony to honor the brave divers that risked their own lives to save those of 13 desperate souls trapped in the flooded caves of Tham Luang, Thailand.

Between the two inspiring stories, PADI President and CEO Drew Richardson took to the stage to provide context and structure, and to describe how all of this fits into PADI’s vision for the coming year.

Grant Corgan on overcoming adversity
Grant Corgan on overcoming adversity

Grant Korgan was the head of a promising biotech company, a professional athlete, and a new husband when a spinal injury in 2010 cost him the use of his lower body. Well on the way to his goal of a 120% recovery, Grant recounted his journey back to full health and mobility with  a motivational speaker’s energy and the passion of a revival preacher.

Then he asked one very important question.

“How do you stay a force for good even when it’s hard?”

The answer is two-fold. Grant recommends cultivating gratitude, and slaying your dragons–whatever they may be. By choosing positivity and vanquishing fear, self-doubt, and the little voices in your head that tell you to give up, you too can leave this world with a memory full of “badassery well-achieved.”

Though he’s not quite back to full capacity, scuba diving has helped Grant hit a major milestone in his recovery — the ability to recreate their wedding-day waltz with his beloved wife. In the darkened ballroom he played the footage for us: a couple so happy to be able to dance together once again, supported by the clear blue waters of Tonga.

He concluded:

“It is human to fall down. The magic happens when you get back up.”

Earlier this month, DeeperBlue.com reported that PADI would be present its first-ever Medal of Valor to honor the seven brave cave divers that, against all odds, rescued the 12 young soccer players and their coach that were trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave in Thailand. The culmination of Tuesday night’s event was that presentation.

Cave Divers Rick Stanton and Jason Mallinson discuss rescuing the Thai boys' soccer team
Cave Divers Rick Stanton and Jason Mallinson discuss rescuing the Thai boys’ soccer team

For their courage, strength, skill, and hope, PADI recognized Dr. Richard Harris, Chris Jewell, Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Jason Mallinson, Dr. Craig Challen, and Jim Warny. Of the seven, two of these extraordinary men were present to accept the award, Rick Stanton and Jason Mallinson, and they were generous enough to share a bit of their experience with the assembled scuba community.

Rick told of the day he and fellow-rescuer John Volanthen found the team deep inside the waterlogged cave. As they were forced to leave the stranded boys behind to plan their rescue, a look passed between Rick and John that said what everyone was thinking: How on earth are we going to get them out?

Luckily they had a lifetime of diving caves in “gnarly” conditions, the support of the international community, and a mountain of cylinders.

Jason took over the story at that point to tell us exactly how they did it. When the emergency struck, no protocol existed anywhere to address this kind of rescue. Everything was experimental, from the methodology to the drugs used to sedate the children for the rescue, and they spent the day before practicing in the pool to work out any kinks before putting their strategy to the test.

He said:

“We were literally writing the manual as they went on.”

With all the gear, both for themselves and their charges, the divers were heavily task-loaded and their cargo beyond precious. Though the word “miracle” has been thrown around a lot to describe the rescue effort, Rick believes it was the combination of bravery, exceptional planning, preparation, collaboration, and extreme competence that saved the day:

“If you’ve got bungee cords, snooper loops, and cable ties, you can do anything.”

With these and countless other exceptional examples of the way scuba can positively impact the world, PADI is committed to taking our favorite recreational activity to a new height, to really make it stand for something. As ambassadors and champions of the ocean, we are in a unique position to inspire curiosity, to instigate adventure, deepen our commitment to ocean health and become, as Drew Richardson describes it, good ancestors. When the children of the future ask us what we did to save the ocean, divers will have tales from the front lines.

Whether it’s picking up trash you find on a dive, saving lives, or inspiring a the marine scientists of tomorrow, PADI wants us all to join them in choosing positivity and being a force for good in the world.

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