Swimming with the largest shark in the world may sound a bit unnerving to some, but for a handful of disabled Veterans receiving health care at Atlanta VA Medical Center’s recreational therapy program, it’s exactly the kind of therapy they need.

The Atlanta medical center’s recreation therapy program partnered with the Georgia Aquarium Aug. 12, 2015, to provide six disabled Veterans a unique opportunity to submerge in the aquarium’s 6.3 million gallon exhibit, Ocean Voyager, and experience the tranquility of the graceful animals swimming below.

Georgia Aquarium dive coordinator Chris Duncan explained that disabled Veterans participating in the “Journey with Gentle Giants” dive immersion program experience peace, happiness and tranquility. “They’re going to be happier, more relaxed, and hopefully not be thinking about their injury,” Duncan said.

Dive Immersion recreational therapy

Six disabled Veterans participated in Georgia Aquarium’s Gentle Giants Dive Immersion Program. The Dive Immersion staff is trained to accommodate guests with any disability, from blindness, to brain injury, to quadriplegia, to amputation, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Photo courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium.

For America’s Veterans, therapeutic recreation promotes health and wellness along with reducing or eliminating activity limitations and restrictions caused by an illness or disabling condition.

In addition, Atlanta VA medical center recreation therapist Chauncy Rozier wants the Veterans in her care to develop and use their leisure in ways that enhance their health, functional abilities, independence and quality of life. “There’s a whole plethora of things they can get involved in,” Rozier said.

Veteran Mark Sikes, who was a bit apprehensive before entering the water, was surprised to discover a different world under the surface. “My biggest fear was the sharks,” Sikes said. “I’m going to defeat something I’m afraid of.”

Therapeutic recreation is based upon a holistic framework that focuses on all aspects of improving an individual’s health and functioning. Rozier was satisfied that not only did the Veterans face legitimate fears, but that the event helped to build confidence, improve self-reliance and have fun while improving their physical ability. “They were totally living and totally free,” Rozier said.

“To see the bodies elongated and stretched beyond what I have never seen on some of them was great,” Rozier said. “But overwhelmingly, to see the smiles afterwards on their faces, I can never forget.”


This article was submitted by the Atlanta VA Medical Center, a Joint Commission and Magnet®-designated medical facility. The main medical center is a level 1A tertiary care facility providing patient-centered healthcare via an array of comprehensive medical, surgical, geriatric specialty services, as well as state-of–the-art diagnostic testing throughout 14 sites of care. With 445 inpatient beds, including a 120-bed Community Living Center, a 40-bed domiciliary, and a 12-bed Residential Treatment Program, the Atlanta VAMC is uniquely positioned to serve the healthcare needs of more than 130,000 enrolled Veterans living in 50 counties across northeast Georgia. The medical center, also a teaching hospital, provides hands-on and state-of-the-art technology, education and research to residents in collaboration with Emory University School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine.

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Published on Aug. 19, 2015

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4 Comments

  1. John Arthur Tucker August 20, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Those were whale sharks! Do not count on all other sharks to be safe to swim around.
    I am jel too.

  2. DannyG August 20, 2015 at 12:43 am

    FREAKIN AWESOME !! And here I sit in the beautiful desert! Don’t get me wrong – I love Az, & am not (usually) the envious type, but this story made me jealous! I grew up on the beaches of Calif, & have seen my share of sharks, but to swim with these guys would be too cool!
    Georgia Aquarium, & Atlanta VA Medical Center, thanks for what you did; those vets will probably NEVER stop smiling & telling people about it!

  3. ELIZABETH SAMBOLIN August 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    THIS IS BEAUTIFUL STORIE IS REAL WE NEED THIS KIND THEREPY FOR OURS VETERAN IN PUERTO RICO AND NATION

    • DannyG August 21, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Elizabeth, Hi, when I was in basic training, I got to be interpreter for a guy from Puerto Rico! I talk & think about him a lot. We were allowed to talk when nobody else could, because his english was not that good, & my spanish was pretty good back then. Ay, ay, ay, did we have some fun! We used to make jokes to try to make each other smile when the Sgt was talking, just to see if we could get away with it!

      Mi hermana, gracias por servir a nuestro gran pais!
      (My sister, thank you for serving our great country!)

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