Untitled photo
  • Dan McIntyre, army veteran sergeant in the military police, prepares to submerge for a dive in Haigh Quarry from the sandy beach entry point.

  • Alfred Portelli and Dan McIntyre examine an old fire engine.

  • John Thompson proudly supports SUDS and shares his story so that our veterans may receive a unique therapy.

  • Haigh Quarry is flocked with flamingoes and sports the theme, The Caribbean of the Midwest.

  • Volunteers gather each year to create the Jim Haigh Memorial Dive and to support SUDS.

Making a difference through diving at Haigh Quarry

by Jennifer Idol

An extremely welcoming place, Haigh Quarry is an oasis among corn fields and a cornerstone of Chicago diving. You’ll find that through their annual event, you get to know Jim Haigh and learn that our lives continue to be meaningful, proven by donations to Soldiers Undertaking Disabled SCUBA (SUDS) totaling well over $36,000 in the last three years. This annual event is quite extraordinary, celebrating veterans and Jim Haigh.

Hundreds of divers gather each year to help transform the lives of disabled veterans. This year’s event on July 20 marked the 13th year that his friends, colleagues, and family organized an epic event and is the 4th year that they are supporting SUDS. Through Jim Haigh’s event, divers are able to do good and make a difference in veterans’ lives.

Jim Haigh Memorial Dive

Although Haigh was not himself a diver, he bought the quarry in 1978 with his wife Tina and together they opened it to diving in 1992. Tina Haigh started the Jim Haigh Memorial Dive after he passed away in 2001 because the dive community supported her through that sad year. She wanted to give back to the dive community and to remember Jim, who continues to be a larger than life person.

The Jim Haigh Memorial Dive has always donated all proceeds from the event to nonprofits such as DAN and Diveheart. Tina ultimately wanted to contribute to a veterans group since Jim and her son both served as marines, so they now support SUDS. You can join in celebrating Haigh’s life and and help provide an opportunity for healing to wounded veterans at the memorial dive.

Each year, divers gather before the gates open at the quarry, lining their cars down the streets of Kankakee, to join in this event. Some divers remember Jim. Others have a personal connection with SUDS, such as Lou Szekeres who simply says, “Well, my son’s a vet.” Dan and Cindy Howard introduced Tina to SUDS and have been helping since the beginning, just because they care.

The dive has been visited by notable divers such as John Chatterton and Dan Orr. Local firefighters have also joined in past events by pumping water into the air with one of their fire engines. In addition, other extraordinary people such as John Thompson, who started SUDS, take part in this event.

How SUDS started

Veteran John Thompson served in the 1980s and when he completed his service, felt a need to contribute more. Thompson went on to become a SCUBA instructor and spent time teaching in Puerto Rico. On a visit to Washington D.C., Thompson walked into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethseda, Maryland, where he met soldiers who suffered injuries from their deployment. As he puts it, “I walked in and started seeing these folks. It was a real gut check. I wanted to help, but I didn’t really know what I had to offer.”

Thompson went on to inquire with the American Red Cross with how he could use his skills to help wounded veterans, so they suggested that he assist with aquatic therapy. Colonel Springer, Chief Physical Therapist at the hospital, saw merit to Thompson’s skills as a dive instructor and through that program, they were able to establish SUDS in 2007. SUDS is a subordinate chapter of Disabled Sports USA, which helps with recruiting and funding. However, events like the Jim Haigh Memorial Dive help raise awareness and additional resources for these veterans.

Brian Carney, President at International Training (SDI, TDI, ERDI), whose father was a veteran, provides training materials for SUDS. It is these contributions that have helped John Thompson certify over 400 veterans, mostly Afghanistan and Iraq deployment recipients, through SUDS donations. Some equipment manufacturers, such as Oceanic, have contributed dive equipment for these certifications.

How Veterans can participate in SUDS

Veterans choose to participate in the SUDS program by signing up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and obtain a prescription for SCUBA therapy to then start a new journey in their lives. The program is free to these veterans, including their training, equipment, and travel for their qualifying certification dives. These check out dives take them to places like Puerto Rico, Florida, Hawaii, Turks and Caicos, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Curaçao. Underwater, veterans are able to regain confidence, strength, and goals.

Making a difference through diving

So the next time you’re at Haigh Quarry, know that there’s something a little different here. It’s not just the flock of flamingoes that make “The Caribbean of the Midwest” distinct. It’s the hearts and generosity of Tina Haigh, her sons Ben and James, her outstanding instructors, the dozens of volunteers who help with the Jim Haigh Memorial Dive, visiting divers, and you who contribute to making a few lives better each day.

Jennifer Idol, The Underwater Designer, is an underwater photographer and graphic designer.

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