Diving to heal: Group of heroes going to great depths to find happiness

CANYON LAKE, Texas – A group of scuba divers at Canyon Lake had an early morning start on Monday to address aquatic conservation through an underwater clean-up. But the group’s mission is to improve the side effects of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and injuries that veterans and first responders suffer.

“We started in October 2019, and the vision is just trying to give other vets and first responders out and available to help with mental health awareness treatment as a treatment option,” said Brandon Seibert, co-founder of Hero Scuba Group.

Seibert said scuba diving as a treatment option is something he inadvertently started after several 215-month rotations to Afghanistan.

“I went to Italy and started diving there and got my friends involved, and we were diving almost monthly,” he said.

And it was around that time Siebert says his injuries combined with his non-deployable status started to take a toll on his mental health.

“After my suicide attempt in October 2011, I got medically retired from the Air Force, and with that, I was still just going deeper and deeper,” said Seibert. “And I was going through the motions of therapy, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons.”

For many, diving is a recreational sport, a chance at adventure, but for this group of veterans, descending to the depths of the oceans, rivers and lakes is more than just for thrills — it’s for healing.

Marshal Kyzar, an Army veteran, said Hero Scuba Group is a conservation and healing effort, but the camaraderie also brings healing.

“I got out 12 years ago, and I missed that. That was the worst part about getting out for me, not having that anymore, and this group is that for me, like, it’s what my life was missing, and I didn’t realize how important it was to me,” said Kyzar.

Kyzar enlisted in the U.S. Army right after high school and was deployed to Iraq numerous times, but several injuries ended his military career.

“I got put on med board and ultimately ended up not being able to re-enlist. So I separated normally, but it wasn’t my intention to get out. It was, in fact, this year I would be retiring if I were to have stayed in,” said Kyzar.

Consequently, life began to get more challenging for Kyzar. He said he attempted to take his own life two years ago.

“I was at the point where I was sitting in the parking lot at work. I was having — I mean, it was tough. You know, it was tough. I had a loaded Glock sitting on the front seat, one in the chamber,” Kyzar said.

But luckily, Kyzar said he called a friend for help.

“He came down, sat in my office with me for nine hours. I cried my heart out — big, fat crocodile tears, man, and I didn’t tell my wife,” said Kyzar.

Kyzar and his wife have been married for 11 years. She says diving has been the one thing she’s seen that’s helped him and their marriage, but it wasn’t an easy journey getting to a good place mentally.

“It was hard as a spouse to watch him feel that way and feel helpless, like, there was nothing I could do. No matter how much support or many things we did, I couldn’t give him that lightness and diving does that for him,” said Crystal Carrio-Kyzar.

A lightness, an outlet, a discovery of happiness found deep underwater. Carrio-Kyzar said some research studies show that dopamine and serotonin levels are increased during diving, a chemical boost produced naturally, just like in exercise when endorphins are released.

Kyzar’s life and marriage have taken a turn for the better, and the couple says diving and the Hero Scuba Group have everything to do with it.

“It’s wonderful to see him happy. Oh, it’s wonderful to see him at a place where he doesn’t feel so heavy and so dark and alone,” Carrio-Kyzar said. “Then I know that a lot of it is the diving itself, all the mechanisms and the chemicals and the serotonin, but I think a lot of it is this group of men and women. They’re struggling together, and he doesn’t feel alone, and the camaraderie that they bring to one another, they’re such good people.”

Scuba training is necessary before embarking on an underwater experience. Hero Scuba Group has partnered with SA Scuba Shack to help prepare new or interested members who want to dive or learn more.

Members interested in participating in the dive program can also apply for a SCUBA scholarship. The deadline for the next available class is June 1.

The scuba training program is geared toward veterans and first responders, but families and counselors can also undergo training and join the dive.

Hero Scuba Group events are usually held during the last weekend of the month. Anyone interested in attending must RSVP to receive discounted or free entry at participating park locations.

Upcoming events:

Deadline for Scholarship Application for June Class (a medical form must be signed by a physician) June 24-25, Windy Point, Lake Travis

About the group

Hero Scuba Group is an outreach program for veterans or first responders with PTSD, anxiety, or high stress. They offer scholarships through an application process to help applicants obtain an NAUI Open Water Certification. Additionally, the group is an active diving community to keep others, not just members, engaged in scuba.