For the past three weeks, Jacksonville resident Richard Denisar has taken strides toward a promising career in the armed forces. Under the expert tutelage of scuba instructor Jerry Stocker, he has trained toward becoming a certified scuba diver, intent on lending his skills to the military as a Navy diver.
When asked why he became a scuba diver, Stocker explained that from the time that he was “wading in the baby pool,” he “always wanted to stay underwater longer than [he] could hold his breath.” He began taking scuba and diving courses at Western Illinois University in the summer of 1962, which lead to a job on a Florida-based deep sea fishing and diving boat in the summer of 1965.
For the next three months, he worked every day until ten at night: filling scuba tanks, taking boats out and teaching tourists how to operate their equipment. He quickly learned that while deep sea fishing excursions were work, diving was fun. Upon returning home in the fall, he acquired his captain’s license and set to work teaching what he knew about scuba diving to anyone willing to learn.
Stocker worked with Denisar twice a week, over the course of six, four-hour sessions, where Denisar made a strong impression on the aging captain. “He’s a strong swimmer who is really relaxed in the water,” Stocker commented. “He’s a real go-getter.”
For nearly the first half of each session, Stocker would instruct Denisar on the ins and outs of diving: going over the medical, physical and preparatory concerns of planning a dive. The rest of the time was spent in the water. There, Denisar would “start with snorkeling” before “becoming acquainted with wet suits” and practicing the skills and techniques that he had just learned.
After becoming used the swimming pool at the YMCA, they moved on to Silo Springs State Park, located about 25 miles East of Quincy. There they would dive down to the Thermocline – a region 10-14 feet below the surface where the water starts to get murkier and colder – and continue to develop their diving skills.
Stocker stressed that there are a lot of things that go into making a competent diver, a lot of which are medical. If you can’t “clear your mask,” breathe underwater without wearing your mask, “you’ll panic.” Other factors that can hold a person back include asthma, diabetes, claustrophobia and smoking.
“Diving,” he warns, “will leave [them] totally exhausted. I’ve seen people unable to swim the length of the pool before. I’ve even seen people unable to swim the width of the pool.” But as long as “you can breathe, you can dive.”
Stoker confesses that he has “had some students in the past that [he] started out the class thinking that they weren’t going to make it, but ended up being as good of a diver as [he is].” By the time that they get to the last session, an underwater skills test, however, “it’s usually pretty easy and smooth for them.”
A navy diver’s job – the kind of work that Denisar wants to do – involves a lot of work. A lot of what they do is “inspect[ing] the outside of hulls and untangling props.” Denisar in particular is “interested in underwater explosives,” which is a considerably more dangerous job than most.