On Saturday the History of Diving Museum (HDM) was thrilled to welcome Matt Johnston back in celebration of his groundbreaking dives10 years ago. With the help of Mike Lombardi and Ocean Opportunity, this feat was achieved after three years of training and engineering of specialized equipment. SDI instructor Drew Gerling worked with Matt for hours in the pool and waters around Minnesota before they headed south. Then in 2006 Matt became the first quadriplegic ventilator-dependent scuba diver when he made his final two dives off of the Florida Keys. As Matt explains, “Underwater is where God shows off.” The goal was to learn from these stepping stones, so that aqua therapy could be an easier realized dream for people with disabilities.
The Diving a Dream exhibit showcases Matt’s journey to the sea, including his pioneering gear and dive manual. HDM was excited to share these enhancements with him and his team and even more thrilled when Matt and Mike presented new artifacts donated from a scientific mission in Greece that will be included. The group received a guided tour throughout the exhibits with executive director Lisa Mongelia, then everyone celebrated with as they all watched the NBC Today special about Matt’s diving journey, here in the Bauer Diving History Research Library.
This event was open to the public; many visitors were able to meet with Matt, ask questions, learn first-hand the challenges and triumphs of those dives. One of these visitors mentioned having a loved one with muscular dystrophy, the disease which has kept Matt wheelchair bound since age 17. Other museum guests where excited to share that they were adaptive dive instructors back in their home towns and have witnessed the positive value of aqua therapy. Even for those of us who have no experience with this disease or the world of adaptive diving, Matt Johnston’s story is an inspiring one. He reminds us all to pursue our dreams, even when they seem impossible, both under the water and on land.
Later in the evening the Museum hosted a dinner in honor of this anniversary and visit at Snappers Oceanfront Restaurant & Bar in Key Largo. Guests dined with Matt and his team and heard form Mike Lombardi about some of the more technical aspects of his diving mission as well as what the whole campaign is really about: holding fast to your dreams and challenging perceived limitations. The group is now working to design and develop more robust equipment that will better the lives of people with tracheotomies by allowing higher levels of physical activity. One of Matt’s former nurses, Beth Ness, shared that “persistence” is Matt’s middle name, the knowing smiles throughout the team members seemed to confirm this. It was a fascinating look into the hurdles this group faced and a fun evening commemorating something we all understand: the fascination with the ocean and supreme need to dive!
A special thank you to the Surgery Center in Cleveland Ohio and our Board Members who made the event possible. Thank you to Matt and his team/dive family, Mike Lombardi and Ocean Opportunities, and everyone who came out to make these events such a wonderful experience.
To support Matt Johnston’s continued mission check out gofundme.com/divingadream. Matt Johnston’s Diving a Dream exhibit is a part of the History of Diving Museum’s permanent collection, be sure to dive in and take a look!