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Diving was most fun assignment yet

I know every square inch of the bottom of the Bemidji High School pool, and it is not because I am a pool cleaner by night.

Last Saturday, I accepted an invitation from the Lakes Area Dive Team to come and train with a few of their members. Having no experience scuba diving, I spent three hours in the BHS pool learning how to dive and watched underwater as members of the dive team practiced some of their most advanced skills.

It was one of my most fun story assignments yet. I had always wondered what I would find on the bottom of the deep end of a pool and I was curious to learn more about what these divers actually do.

Granted, scuba diving in a pool sounds a bit trivial to most people, but this was unknown territory to me. Relying on a tank of air was a foreign concept. Fortunately I had dive team member Corry Hill, a divemaster with The Dive Depot in Bemidji, as my teacher. With his help I began to understand more about the basics of diving.

My first lesson was breathing underwater. Ironically, holding my breath underwater felt more natural than breathing through a mouth piece called a dive regulator.

What came next was not one of Corry's lessons, but one I made up myself - how to laugh out loud underwater while still holding the regulator in my mouth. Watching Corry demonstrate basic skills underwater made me laugh at first for two reasons. First his face appeared larger than life underwater, which made his eyes appear disproportionally larger inside his goggles, and secondly, I kept trying to talk through my regulator. I began to sound like a grownup from the Peanuts comic strip and ended up blowing out a geyser of tiny air bubbles. I eventually learned to use hand signals.

Needless to say, almost every time I came up to the water surface I practically spit out my breathing regulator laughing so hard. I was having a good time.

The divers even let me use one of their underwater digital cameras. It was my first time using a camera underwater and it showed. While taking a picture of Corry, I noticed in the viewing screen he was waving his arms in a "don't shoot yet" manner. Seconds before camera took a shot, the bright yellow camera strap floated up and blocked the camera's view. Whoops.

I swam to the bottom of the deep end and watched as the team of public safety divers took turns learning how to switch from a "faulty" face mask to an alternate mask. They even practiced how to get untangled in a rope obstacle.

I also got acquainted with the toaster-sized, self-propelling underwater robot that serves as a digital "live feed" camera. The machine is helpful in areas where it is too dangerous to send divers down.

I also learned it was a helpful tool for my husband, who came along to watch my diving lesson, to pick me out from all the other divers in the pool. My underwater dance moves and repetitive waving to the robot camera left him little doubt I was enjoying my diving experience in the deep end.

It was great getting to know the members of the Lakes Area Dive Team. They are dedicated and serious about their jobs as public safety divers. They are also like a family in many ways, helping each other to overcome tough challenges and watching out for each other.

I walked away from Saturday's lesson remembering one piece of advice Corry shared with me - "always keep balanced." Although he was referring to the levels of air in my scuba vest, it made me think about how the members of the dive team must balance their duties as divers with their everyday jobs and family lives. When the call is made after an incident on a lake occurs, from as far north as Nebish to south of Hackensack, these divers gather their gear, make the drive and do what is necessary.

Will I become a great and famous oceanographer after my experience in the pool? Probably not. But it left me understanding more about these individuals and I learned the bottom of the pool was cleaner than I thought it would be.