My mother told me that during the developmental stages of my life, meaning in the womb, I got stuck in the “gill phase” and that is how I came to be a fish. That pretty much sums me up!
But two things have happened that led me to post about myself in this post because it’s not a normal thing that I would do. First, we have added many new friends to our family here at Global Dive/Live Adventurously (welcome!) and second, I have received a diving award I want to share with you, but more on that later because while I do love recognition, I’m shy about it.
So, for all of you who know me and those that think they do and those that really don’t, here’s a bit of background.
I was born on campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan which gave natural rise to my first speaking words which were Mom (of course), Dad, and Bo Schembechler (the football coach at UofM). Naturally, when I emerged into the world I was wearing a football jersey!
I had a somewhat normal suburban upbringing with an amazing pair of siblings, an older brother, younger sister and a couple of dogs that I adored. I spent all the summers of my youth sailing and swimming on the southern shores of Lake Erie, thus earning me the adoring nickname of “water rat” (I prefer mantagirl). But I took a turn for the adventure life with parents who led us on great travel adventures from a very young age. My mother taught me to be a free spirit and taught me that I could do anything. My mother was also president of the International Community Program at Michigan State University and I spent much of my time growing up in the company of students from around the world. I knew at an early age that the entire world would become my home. In 1981 I earned a statewide award as Citizen for Cultural Exhange.
My parents also loved the water and one day my father came home and announced that we now owned a sailboat charter business in the Bahamas. I became a hopeless addict to the ocean, moved to Florida only two days after graduating from college in 1985 and became a diver.
I took my first dive job on a live aboard out of Nassau with only 12 dives under my weight belt in 1986. I acted as divemaster (scary!), dishwasher, anchor puller, bed maker and caretaker to the two dogs on board. I taught and learned the dive tables (anyone remember those?) simultaneously while diving 5 times a day, 6 days a week. The owners of the boat taught me the Caribbean fish and I soaked it in like it was life giving air. It was the best $100/week I ever made.
There became nothing more exhilarating or more important to me than the ocean and all that lived in it. I craved the tank on my back and the critters on the reef. So in 1988 I scraped together $750 and financed the rest to go to NAUI college in California for a month to become a SCUBA Instructor.
Newly emerged from instructor training I headed south to work at a dive shop on St. Thomas and live on a friend’s boat. But I spent more time selling t-shirts in the shop than teaching so I headed to Club Med in the Turks and Caicos where I was completely immersed in teaching diving and also immersed in falling in love with a long haired, skateboard riding sailing instructor…..Ridlon.
My next adventure was leading a team of 24 dive instructors on board the all diving ship, Ocean Spirit. I joined as a dive instructor but quickly became training director for 190 divers each week on our run out of St. Petersburg, Florida down to the Bay Islands of Honduras, Belize and Mexico. The concept and the crew were amazing but the ship wasn’t making it financially so we headed onward.
I took my teaching skills literally to the classroom and finished my second degree in special education. I used it to teach severely emotionally disturbed teens (yes, redundant I know) but also to teach physically disabled SCUBA at a rehab hospital in Austin, Texas. But the ocean kept calling and in 1994 while honeymooning in Tahiti, Ridlon and I discovered our friends, Ron and Dawna Thorstad, as well as a job on board the WindSong.
We joined the company of WindStar Cruises and spent five years diving the world from Tahiti to Turkey to Tonga, where we met so many of you! And we were able to join some amazing expeditions to explore unknown reefs of the world. But we knew we wanted to do it on our own and in 1998, Ridlon and I created Global Dive Expeditions. This company remains our life love. Having the privilege to show and teach others about the underwater world is truly our passion.
In 2006, I was inducted to the prestigious Explorers Club to humbly join a list of amazing explorers such as Sylvia Earle, and Neil Armstrong.
The other passion in my life is giving. My family teases me that I was always “bringing home strays” whether it be dogs or people or birds with broken wings. I’ve always rooted for the underdogs. And as I traveled the world’s oceans I’ve seen the need in villages from Fiji to Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean Islands. The need to assist with simple infrastructure for school systems and to teach ocean conservation in fishing villages seemed a natural extension of Global Dive. I simply had to put together a love of diving with a love of giving and in 2009 I spearheaded our foray into the non profit world by creating Ocean of Hope Foundation. Now, I am in the final weeks of negotiations for our 501 3 c status with the IRS.
I’ve had frustrating setbacks in my journey like everyone and tangents that have led me astray to find the finances to keep the dreams alive. The economic downturn of 2008 has been one of the most frustrating. We have revamped the company, tried new things with a new website and re-branded in order to grow Global Dive into a thriving company that can sustain us full time and allow me to continue to teach the world about the ocean and bring adventure to people’s lives.
We are pushing forward into 2011 and 2012 with new dive adventures in new parts of world and new ways to give back. The dream is as alive and as passionate as ever.
Oh, yes, I mentioned the award. Yesterday, I received notice that I am to be inducted as a Platinum Pro 5000 member at a ceremony at DEMA in November. This award is for dive professionals with significant contributions to the dive industry with over 5000 dives. To date, I have completed over 7500 dives which marks me as one of the top female divers in the world. It’s a wonderful honor to join the ranks of the Platinum Pro 5000 but it is more important to me to take you diving and continue to give back to the ocean that has given me so much in my short time on earth.
I hope you will be inspired to join me on an adventure soon!
To Your Adventures!