Oct 19, 2009 Doug Campbell Uncategorized
Like many girls her age, 11-year-old Mee Rae Firkins will be taking part in a pumpkin carving contest this October. But unlike other girls, Mee Rae will be carving her pumpkin underwater, wearing 50 pounds of scuba equipment.
Firkins, a sixth grader at Burton Street Elementary, recently became a “master diver” at the age of 11. In doing so, she became the youngest scuba diver ever to achieve that distinction from National Aquatic Service, a Syracuse company that has taught about 36,000 students since it was founded 50 years ago.
To become a master diver, Mee Rae had to finish 50 dives and take classes in stress and rescue, night and low visibility diving, navigation, boat diving and dry suit diving. Since April, she has completed over 80 dives.
Last year, Sue Firkins wanted to get her entire family involved in a new activity. The entire Firkins family took classes in the fall, and waited until the weather was better to be certified. The family went to Little Cayman in the Caribbean for their certification, where Mee Rae dove with eagle rays, stingrays, barracuda and turtles.
The sport takes a lot of skill and patience both in and out of the water. Mee Rae has to assemble her vest, the air tank, a regulator, hoses, a computer and compass. She also has to account for how much extra weight she will need in her suit, depending on different variables. After 80 dives, Mee Rae can quickly, while carefully, prepare her diving equipment.
Once in the water, Mee Rae has to use the computer to monitor her depth and speed; divers have to be careful not to surface too quickly, or else they can get decompression sickness, or “the bends.”
While Sue’s husband, Brad, and her son, 9th grader Bill, also dive, they aren’t quite as involved as Mee Rae or Sue.
“The boys aren’t as crazy about it as the girls are,” Sue said.
Sue has been very impressed by her daughter’s love of the water and her natural talent.
“She’s really taken to it,” said Sue. “She’s like a fish.”
Sue is happy to dive with her daughter, and said she is not afraid to be her diving buddy by any means.
“I trust her,” Sue said. “She tends to stick by and I can see her constantly look at me and making sure she’s okay.”
When Mee Rae received her master certification in July, NAS didn’t have cards for her age range; they had to make a special junior master diver card just for her.
Mee Rae and her family have dived in the Caribbean, Skaneateles Lake, Alexandria Bay, Dutch Springs and Cazenovia Lake.
While there are risks involved, Sue said, she knows that are children will dive safely and carefully.
“I have tremendous faith in both my kids,” she said.