SAN DIEGO – May 20, 2016 – At just 12 years-old and one day, Tennessee Cumming became the world’s youngest PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver after completing the required dive for certification by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) on the island of Taveuni in Fiji on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
Tennessee, also known as “T,” completed final requirements to earn his Junior Master Scuba Diver rating at 8:35 a.m. local time at the Korolevu dive site, a part Rainbow Reef in Taveuni, Fiji. He was accompanied by his mother, Allison Cumming, his dive instructor, Elizabeth “Bethy” Driscoll (PADI no. 268541), Frank W. Whippy (PADI no. 489496), Morisio Qiolele (PADI no. 464868), Peter Koroibola (boat captain), and Alfred Celua (mate). T’s final dive required that he demonstrate competence at rescuing an unconscious diver (his mother) at a depth of 30 feet. They entered the water at 7:30 a.m. and exited at 8:20 a.m. local time. There was a small celebration with friends and family upon T’s return to expedition base camp at the Tides Reach Resort in Taveuni, Fiji. While there are many other Junior Master Scuba Divers in the world, T completed the certificate younger than the existing youngest diver.
Fiji was chosen as the destination the dive would take place as a way to make it a special trip for T’s incredible record attempt. PADI is the world’s leading scuba diver training organization and his new rating as a Junior Master Scuba Diver is recognized as the pinnacle of recreational diving achievement before the age of 15. Especially since T is just 12 years of age and is diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, oppositional defiance disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, as well as a processing disorder.
T started diving during Thanksgiving break in 2012 when he was eight and a half years old. His grandparents took the whole family to Bora Bora for an amazing week together. One of the activities offered at the resort was a Bubblemaker program, which is an introduction to the sport. “T asked if he could go because he wanted ‘to see what was underwater,’” says Allison Cumming, his mother. “He completed several dives that week and each time he finished a dive he said ‘best day of my life!’ We had never heard him say anything like that before. Other than building Legos and playing with his brother there was nothing else he seemed to like to do. We were thrilled and vowed to get him diving again.”
At the time of the first diving trip, T and his family were living in Park City, Utah. But in 2014 the family moved to the San Diego area in search of better, more specific schools for their three children. In November 2014, two years after the Bubblemaker class, they stopped by House of Scuba in Pacific Beach. “Everyone there was so helpful and welcoming, encouraging T to start diving. He was homesick and needed something fun to do. After discussing T’s learning and behavioral differences, the owners of House of Scuba recommended we work with Elizabeth “Bethy” Driscoll,” explains Allison. “She had experience working with special needs children, and by the end of Dec. 2014, T had earned his Open Water Diver certification.”
Bethy, who is a resident of the San Diego neighborhood of Clairemont, is the Dive Nanny™, for the Cumming family. She has accompanied on several family vacations, helping all three of the Cumming children with diving, snorkeling, and swimming. Although Bethy has been T’s primary instructor, he has worked occasionally with several other dive instructors, all from House of Scuba. T has been diving with Bethy one to two times per week, earning multiple certifications to prepare and train to achieve his PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver Rating.
The minimum requirements to receive the certification to become a PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver include: 50 open water dives, an Open Water Diver Certification, an Advanced Open Water Diver certification, a current Emergency First Responder certification, Rescue Diver Certification, and five specialties. The diver must also be 12 years of age and the final required dives must take place over two days. T has completed these requirements and has also completed the following certifications: Junior Night Diver certification through the National Organization of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). He has also completed his five required specialties, which are: Emergency Oxygen Provider, Equipment Specialist, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Boat Diver, and Dry Suit Diver. “There are many types of specialties to choose from, but T picked the ones that are the most technical and complicated,” says David Cumming, T’s father. “T could have completed more certifications, but he and Bethy had a difficult time finding safe diving conditions due to the unusual El Niño weather in San Diego this past winter.”
Additionally, T has done beach clean-ups in San Diego Harbor including the salvage of a small wrecked craft, and cleanups in La Jolla’s Protected Underwater Park, including using underwater metal detectors in Mission Bay as well as on the wrecked Monte Carlo on Coronado Island. In all, T has more than 50 open-water dives of over 20 feet in depth.
PADI will award T with a Junior Master Scuba Diver certificate, certification card and emblem patch. Representatives from PADI have also discussed with the Cumming family making T a PADI Child Ambassador, to generate awareness and passion for the love of diving among a new generation of swimmers and athletes throughout the United States and beyond. “We are just so proud of T for accomplishing this record,” says Allison. “Diving has become T’s ‘island of competence.’ Raising a child with significant learning differences, it is easy to get caught up in reacting to the challenges they face, rather than focusing on the positive and nurturing their strengths and interests. Even though we knew it would be difficult for him, we knew it was possible even though T mostly kept to himself and seldom expressed interest in sports or other physical activities. Working with Bethy and focusing on his diving has also enabled T to blossom in other areas of his life. He is more communicative and does better in school. The way he expresses himself has improved, and he shows increased mental flexibility. T is just a happier kid,” explains Allison.
T is in the sixth grade and attends The Winston School in Del Mar, which offers a college preparatory program for bright, creative students in grades 4 through 12 who struggle with autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, and other specific learning disabilities or learning disorders. His school has been supportive of his learning differences as well as his diving. School officials are planning an all-school event to celebrate his record setting achievement when he returns to San Diego.
“Tennessee has a great attitude in school. He is hard working and persistent yet takes coaching and has a good sense of humor, said Mike Peterson, headmaster, The Winston School. “He is respected by his peers because be stands up for what he thinks is right and treats others fairly. He is also a risk-taker, so it’s clear this attribute has carried over throughout what he has done in life.”
Tennessee and his family live in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. When T isn’t diving or in school he also enjoys playing with his 13 year-old brother Case and his eight year-old sister Samara, riding his bike, swimming, playing video games or playing with his Legos.
NOTE TO EDITORS – MORE ABOUT THE PADI JUNIOR MASTER SCUBA DIVER RATING CERTIFICATION:
To receive the certification to become a PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver Rating, the diver must be a minimum of 12 years old and the required dives must take place over two days. The required dives Tennessee Cumming completed over the two days include: His Deep Dive towards his Advanced Open Water Diver certification and the Rescue Diver Certification. On the morning of May 16, 2016, his twelfth birthday, Tennessee completed his Advanced Open Water Diver certification. That same afternoon he began his Rescue Diver Certification. On the morning of May 17, 2016 he completed the remainder of his Rescue Diver Certification, the final requirement, which lead to his Junior Master Scuba Diver rating. The diver must also complete 50 open water dives, an Open Water Diver Certification, a current Emergency First Responder certification and five specialties. Tennessee completed these requirements beforehand.
ABOUT THE WINSTON SCHOOL
The Winston School inspires hope and success in students who have struggled to realize their potential. The school offers a college preparatory program for bright, creative students in grades 4 through 12 who struggle with autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, and other specific learning disabilities or learning disorders. The Winston School’s learning solutions help students fulfill their academic, artistic, social and emotional potential through small size classes, multi-sensory teaching methods and individual attention. For more information about The Winston School, go to http://thewinstonschool.com/