By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Few outdoor activities can boast the versatility of serving both practical and recreational purposes.
From swimmers searching the murky depths to recover a drowning victim to those who seek the serene departure from a noisy world to underwater explorers touring the brilliant blue of the Caribbean – few activities are as versatile as scuba diving.
The world of diving is multifaceted, but what transcends every diving adventure, every useful application, every casual recreational swim, is the simple desire for discovery, both practical and recreational.
At C&J Divers Scuba 2000, a dive shop on Elms Road in Killeen, divers with just a hint of interest join the lifestyle divers, many of whom became instructors to help pass on their passion to others.
One such convert is instructor Lindsey Musgrove. Like many divers who have turned scuba diving into a lifestyle obsession, Musgrove was converted in a single moment just over two years ago, and her life has never been the same.
Musgrove said the realization hit her in the first dive class; once she strapped herself to the regulator, the breathing apparatus that connects to the oxygen tank, she was hooked.
"I just fell in love with it," she said. "I could have stayed down there all night long just breathing."
Musgrove said she's been around the ocean since she was a child, spending hot summer days snorkeling on the Florida coast with her parents and relatives. But this was different.
"I've been snorkeling all my life," she said. "But there's a point when you just want more. You want to do more than just look. You want to go down there, interact, instead of just watch it. I've always wanted to do it, but never took that step until that day. I just fell in love from the very first breath."
She said her first underwater dive trip sealed the changeover for the 28-year-old Killeen resident, who was on a weeklong diving vacation at a South Caribbean chain of islands known as Turks and Caicos.
"We pretty much just eat, sleep and dive for the entire vacation," Musgrove said. "I saw my first shark; there was coral as big as I am. After that, I wanted to be an instructor."
Not long after, she quit her job as a social worker and joined the staff at C&J Divers after the owner of the shop, Chris Mendoza, offered her a job. Though she jokes that her parents refer to her choice as "leaving her real job for this," she said she just loves living the life.
"To me, it's where I feel most at peace," Musgrove said. "This is where I feel I belong. Every chance I get, I'm in the water. It's the most comfortable place I think I've ever been."
As an instructor, Musgrove joins master divers such as John Tatum during instruction classes. The sessions are offered through the dive shop on Thursday nights year round, and this past Thursday to a small group of three.
Away from the water, Tatum is a professional welder and private contractor. But when he leaves the construction sites, he takes on a much different role. A licensed member of the Professional Association of Dive Instructors, or PADI, Tatum is a team leader and instructor for the Morgan's Point Resort Underwater Recovery Team.
Formed in May of 2000, the Morgan's Point dive team performs a variety of search and rescue operations, disaster relief, evidence recovery and emergency preparedness work for law enforcement agencies throughout the region. Whenever a vehicle is reported lost in a lake, members of the team will be called out to hook up tow cables attached to a winch on a tow truck and pull the vehicle to land.
Tatum and two other divers went 18 feet below the raging floodwaters in the early morning hours of May 25 last year and recovered the bodies of two boys, 5-year-old Jarvis Tarrance and 6-year-old Javiante Tarrance, who drowned on Watercrest Drive in Killeen. They were in the far back seat of a Ford Expedition, which was picked up and carried over the bridge rails during the flooding on the night of May 24.
Tatum was involved in the recovery of four bodies in Central Texas in 2007, as he assisted in the recovery of a man in a pickup truck in the Lampasas River that had been below the surface for more than three months as well, as another body in an RV park in Temple.
"On a slow year, we'll get called out once or twice, and a busy year we'll get called out five or six times," Tatum said. "Last year alone, we've went out probably 15 times. We covered every aspect of recovery diving last year."
The first dive of last year, a vehicle recovery just outside of Killeen in the Lampasas River, was Tatum's coldest dive of his career as the water temperature registered a chilly 43 degrees. Tatum said searching through zero visibility in dangerous conditions recovering bodies and pulling out vehicles is far from recreational or enjoyable, but he says it's a way he can give back.
"It's the camaraderie with the team, it's wanting to help the community," Tatum said. "We're scuba divers, and this is a way that we can help. We don't all go out and volunteer at the animal shelter; instead, we do this."
And part of his role as an experienced diver is to pass on his skills to others.
One of his three students in Thursday's class was Capt. Andrew Douglass, assigned as a military policeman to the 4th Sustainment Brigade on Fort Hood, returned from his first tour in Iraq in October 2006. Slated to return in just three months, the 29-year-old hopes to be certified before his deployment.
Douglass said diving has been an interest of his for some time, but this was his first step. He said a lot of his fellow soldiers take trips to tropical destinations when they return to the U.S. on R&R, and next time he wants to be a part of it.
"I've always been interested in doing it; I just never took the time," Douglass said after his first class was complete Thursday night. "At this post I was at, there were a lot of guys who were getting qualified for scuba diving, and they'd go down into the caves, and it just seemed like fun, and I had to sit up at the top of the mountain and watch them."
Douglass was joined by Copperas Cove resident and professional horse trainer Melissa Thompson and her daughter, Emily Locklear, a junior at Copperas Cove High School. The pair decided to take up diving in preparation for a cruise they plan to take in February to the Grand Cayman Islands.
Musgrove said it's that appeal of escaping the normal habits of life that draw most people to diving, in combination with elements of adventure and danger.
And don't forget the exotic destinations.
In her two years in the water, Musgrove said she has taken trips diving in the waters off Maui, Cozymel, Arruba, Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean seas, and is heading out soon for a one-month internship in the British Virgin Islands. While her trips are obviously costly, she said she dumps just about everything she makes into diving gear and taking trips. Even during the winter, she dives about every other week.
Musgrove's story of scuba discovery is much like that of many others. Kelly Blystone joined the crew at the dive shop six months ago after discovering a sudden passion for diving while she was enrolled in the criminal justice program at Central Texas College.
Blystone came to Killeen four years ago with her husband, a staff sergeant stationed at Fort Hood, and their daughter, now 12. While at CTC, she was required to take one class to fill a physical education requirement. She said it was supposed to be a throwaway class to fill requirements, but when she took a diving course, which started last June, she was hooked. Now, she's converted her husband and daughter, and all three are certified divers.
"It's indescribable until you go," Blystone said. "You don't understand until you see it."
So what's the big deal? Why do parks departments purchase old planes and rundown boats for the sole purpose of sinking them? Musgrove said such measures have two benefits.
In the Caribbean, the marine life forms a new reef system and subsurface habitat out of an artificial object. After they spend some time under water, these old wrecks become homes to hundreds of aquatic species and actually promote an ecological improvement. Instead of a dead, lifeless form, a living world appears in its place, often in the same shapes. And that, Musgrove said, is really cool to see.
"When I was in Turks and Caicos, there was an anchor from the 1600s just covered in coral, red and orange," she said. "It was red, orange. It helps promote a healthier marine environment."
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7568