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Kym Larsen Awarded February Sea Hero for Work with Veterans

Civilian scuba instructor dedicates her time to training military veterans
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Kym Larsen Awarded February Sea Hero for Work with Veterans

Portrait of Kym Larsen

Michael G. Mora




WORDS TO LIVE BY: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” —SunTzu, The Art of War

In 2006, Kym Larsen’s boss was so eager to have new dive buddies join him that he offered to pay his staff’s certification fees if they would be willing to learn. Larsen was one of 16 employees who took her boss up on his offer. Little did she know at the time, the chance she took on scuba would lead her to a new passion in life. She transformed from a nervous first-time diver, whose primary goal was to “survive” certification, into a PADI IDC Staff Instructor.

This came after years of seeking out as many diving education opportunities as she could find. But it was a course with the Handicapped Scuba Association that piqued her interest and ultimately led her to the work she does now, helping certify injured military veterans through the Ocean Enterprises Foundation in San Diego. Described by her co-instructors as selfless, someone who consistently uses her free time to help out veterans, it is clear why Larsen deserves this honor. For her extensive support of military veterans and passion for adaptive training, Kym Larsen is our February 2024 Sea Hero.

Q: How did you first become involved with Ocean Enterprises Foundation?

A: After years of enrolling in scuba certification courses with Ocean Enterprises so that I could work my way up to becoming a PADI Professional, I sought out a course with the Handicapped Scuba Association. It provided opportunities to learn how to work with more challenging cases. I gravitated toward the nervous students and found passion in developing creative ways for them to overcome obstacles and build their confidence. It was from there that the idea of working with injured military veterans was born. Werner and Myra Kurn established the Ocean Enterprises Foundation in 2013. And with the support and confidence of my PADI Course Director, Denise Cable, I was tasked as the person to connect the skills to the needs of guiding the foundation’s mission. As the veteran liaison with the foundation, I coordinate and provide training for various veteran organizations and hold both PADI Adaptive Scuba and Handicapped Scuba Association instructor credentials.

Q: Is veteran training the sole focus of the foundation, or is it open to other groups of people?

A: Primarily, the foundation has worked with injured veterans, but we also offer training opportunities to others impacted by traumatic events. This year, we will be including first responders.

Q: What is the one thing that you wish more people knew about adaptive scuba diving?

A: Adaptive diving is an opportunity for people to live again. It offers connections to the community and ways to form bonds with all types of people. Diving is great exercise, provides mental wellness and builds confidence.

Q: What is the process for veterans seeking training with Ocean Enterprises Foundation?

A: Ocean Enterprises Foundation draws divers from many sources. Potential divers come from referrals through Veterans Affairs programs, peer support specialists, case managers, counselors and therapists familiar with our program. We work alongside other nonprofits that serve veterans and first responders, and try to connect opportunities for them in the industry. To ensure our trained divers qualify for those programs, we must follow their requirements. Participants must have a documented disability rating of 30 percent or higher. Once established, they set up a medical evaluation and obtain an industry-provided medical clearance from their primary physician/psychologist. From there, we can begin dive training.

Larsen’s work helps provide opportunities for would-be divers who might not otherwise be able to explore the depths using traditional techniques.


Q: Why did you want to work with veterans?

A: I am not a veteran, but I was born and raised in San Diego, which has a very strong military presence. I attempted to join the Navy while in college but unfortunately was denied due to a medical condition. Initially, what interested me were my own firsthand experiences with post-traumatic stress (PTS). Two people in my life were impacted by PTS, one through childhood events and one who was in the military. I’ve witnessed how that can dramatically impact someone. I have also felt the peace of the ocean and think it’s the perfect place to work on PTS.

Q: What do you view as the greatest challenge in obtaining scuba certification today? How is this reflected in your work?

A: Scuba certification is not a one-size-fits-all learning process. Teaching students, especially those with physical and/or invisible impairments like PTS or traumatic brain injuries, requires patience and flexibility. You must pay close attention to, and understand the specific needs of, each diver. Our team has developed an approach that supports a flexible, adaptive learning environment. When I started, I studied injuries and practiced diving with individuals so I could learn how best to train them. I took time to work with therapists, read articles and talked to participants to understand what helped them during the course and what I could do better.

Related Reading: Oceanographer Antonio Mignucci Named January Sea Hero

Q: What has been the biggest surprise of your career?

A: Witnessing the absolute resilience of human beings. I feel they have taught me more in life than I will ever be able to teach them.

Q: Is there anything else you would like readers to know? Tell us what’s important to you!

A: By connecting people and sharing resources for healing, I have found that diving has helped me break down some barriers between veterans and civilians. I am a civilian with a passion for kindness. Sometimes veterans are reluctant to enter civilian circles because they feel that they do not have anything in common. Diving unites everyone because no matter where you come from, what language you speak or what style you are, we are all in the same ocean, using the same gear. It really is unique.

Each Sea Hero featured in Scuba Diving receives a Seiko SRPD43 watch valued at $525. For our December issue, judges select a Sea Hero of the Year, who receives a $5,000 cash award from Seiko to further their work. Nominate a sea hero at