Campus & Community

Scuba for wounded warriors

3 min read

Community Gifts aids charitable program for returning military

This is one of a series of Gazette articles highlighting some of the many initiatives and charities that Harvard affiliates can support through the Harvard Community Gifts campaign. Faculty and staff can donate by check or credit card through Jan. 15.

Julie Broad, director of Alumni Affairs and Development systems, vividly remembers when she watched video of the program called Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba Diving (SUDS Diving).

“It really caught my attention,” Broad said. “I’m a former scuba diver, and it resonated with me immediately — the experience you get out of learning to dive and … being underwater. I support a lot of other military organizations, but this spoke to me personally because I could relate to the diving experience.”

This holiday season, Broad is making a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit group through Harvard’s annual Community Gifts program, which accepts donations to hundreds of charities.

A chapter of Disabled Sports USA, SUDS Diving improves the lives of injured military men and women who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the service members in the program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are dealing with severe injuries. Some SUDS participants use their prosthetics underwater, while others use gear such as webbed gloves for propulsion. Motorized underwater scooters are employed to assist veterans who have lower limb injuries.

For these wounded warriors, learning to dive can be equal parts part rehabilitation, confidence-builder, and adventure.  About 300 injured service members have received scuba training since the program began in 2007. Volunteers provide training to SUDS divers, and certification trips are funded by donations to the organization.

“There’s such an empowering component to diving,” Broad said. “Because it’s such a high-risk activity, you have to be very responsible in learning the physiology and the science behind it, so there’s that strong sense of learning, accomplishment, and competency. But there’s also the absolute sense of being in a place that most people never get to see. You experience something so natural and elemental.”

In 1999, Broad trained for her scuba certification on the South Shore and passed her open-water certification dive in the Cayman Islands. For six years, she attained ever-higher levels of certification, ultimately reaching dive master status, as she traveled to the Caribbean, Hawaii, and even the Galapagos Islands.

Her diving days now behind her, Broad still misses it. Contributing to SUDS Diving seemed like a great opportunity to introduce diving to others.

“Being in the water is a tremendous equalizer,” she said. “It’s very liberating because a lot of the constraints you may have on land just disappear. I wanted to help others who may have physical or land-based challenges to have this wonderful experience, and really get lost in the wonder of the world.”