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.