I am 45 years young. I live, and teach in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have been an urban, public school teacher for 14 years, and a PADI OW Scuba Instructor for a little over a year. I am the mother of 4 wonderful daughters, Rebecca, Jessica, Megan, and Sarah, and the fiancé of Jim Gazica—my dive buddy and life partner.
I have been fascinated with the ocean since I was a small child. Looking back through the boxes of my school memorabilia, it seems almost every single research report, or school project I did had something to do with the ocean, dolphins, or whales. As a young girl my biggest wish was to become a mermaid—I had a strong disliking for the story, “The Little Mermaid,” because I couldn’t imagine giving up life as mermaid for any guy. While I have not managed to grow a tail and gills, I at least do not have to choose between my love of diving and my choice of a partner—Jim loves the water as much as I do. Diving and teaching scuba are passions that we share.
I came to diving late. Although fascinated with the ocean from an early age, diving was something that was never a financial possibility as I was growing up. After high school, I worked for a while and became a mom at the age of 20. Raising two girls, working and attending college as a single mom, left very little time for recreation and certainly no chance to take a hobby like scuba. I gained a lot of weight as I was working my way through college and a new teaching career. I developed several health problems (Asthma, Diabetes, and Sleep Apnea ) as a result of my weight gain. I resigned myself that diving and traveling the world were just dreams that had passed me by. In 2005, I made a life changing decision—I decided that I would rather die than spend another year the way that I was. I made the decision to have gastric bypass surgery. Weighing in at 294.5 pounds the day of surgery, I made the commitment that I would change my life. After the surgery I spent about 2 hours a day in the gym at least 4 days a week (sometimes 6) I lost over 150 pounds and regained the energy and drive that I thought were gone forever. Scuba diving lessons were my 100th pound lost present to myself.
Even though I wanted to learn to dive more than anything I’d ever tried before, diving did not come easily to me. I was probably one of the most terrified open water students ever. I think I made every mistake in the book, and invented a few more. After my open water training dives I was certain that I knew just enough to be a danger to myself and a dive buddy, and sought further training. Fortunately for me, I discovered Washington Scuba Center and met Jim who became my instructor, friend, mentor, and eventually partner. I hung out at the dive shop, went on every dive outing offered and invested in my own gear. I became a dive addict. Hanging out at the shop a lot, I just naturally pitched in and helped. I had found a pastime I loved and a group of people that I felt at home with. Gradually, Jim encouraged me to take on more responsibilities and consider going pro. I found that my love of the classroom transferred to the water and that teaching scuba was one of the most enjoyable things that I have ever done. I want to share this wonderful sport with everyone that crosses my path. There is no greater feeling than when you see the look of joy and amazement on new diver’s faces. I think that my greatest strength as a scuba instructor is my patience with students who struggle. I know that anyone, who has the desire and willingness to try, can learn to dive—and I want to be a part of helping to bring that experience to them.
I see the Ultimate Diver Challenge, not as an opportunity to be “THE” Ultimate Diver—but to help show the world that Diving is the Ultimate sport. I hope that the show will generate interest in diving and in water conservation. I also hope that my story will inspire others who think they can’t—to take that first step into the water and experience the wonder for themselves.
From the Graveyard of the Atlantic emerges Chris Price, a Carolina native from Charlotte, NC. Now residing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris represents the southern side of Team Carolinas. His Divemaster and Buddy, Marc Lafo, represents the northern side.
Chris received his first PADI Open Water Diver certification on June 25, 1995. During the times Chris was stuck inland, he would dive lakes and quarries to keep his skills honed, but has always been a wreck diver at heart. Although most of his diving is done along the NC/SC coast, he has been able to visit some exotic destinations along the eastern and western Caribbean. Chris also holds a unique license (granted to SC residents) which allows him to search for, and recover, fossils and artifacts from the black water lake, rivers and estuaries along the SC coast.
Chris accomplished his ultimate goal, and was certified as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor in 2009. He began teaching scuba freelance and as an independent contractor with local dive shops, prior to establishing Carpe Diem Dive & Travel earlier this year.
When not under the water - or kayaking, jet skiing, or boating above it - Chris operates his own real estate brokerage, Price and Company Realty.
Cole was born and raised in New Caney Texas. Cole is new to scuba diving but is always up for a new adventure. He will be teaming up with his cousin, Dustin, to take on the competition of the Ultimate Diver. He has always been athletic and competitive in everything he has done and is confident that even though he may have the least experience of the competitors, he will still be a force to be reckoned with.
Cole graduated from the police academy at 21 and became a deputy constable. He continued his education and recently graduated from Sam Houston State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Since graduating, Cole has operated Creekside Edge ATV Park, a family owned business where he gets to enjoy one of the things he loves most, being outdoors.
He really enjoys tropical locales and has been to Cozumel 5 times previously. It was his visit 3 months before the show that convinced him this was something he wanted to do, “How can you pass up the opportunity to visit somewhere you love and get to compete in an Ultimate Diver Challenge too?” Cole is sure that this is one challenge he is ready for.
I’m 25 years old disabled veteran originally from Chelsea, MI. I left Michigan in 2005 after graduating high school and joined the U.S. Army. I was in the Army for nearly six years and was in 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment where I was a rifleman, gun team leader and my last job was a military working dog handler. I was deployed to Afghanistan four times and Iraq twice. While serving I lost part of the vision in my right eye, which ended my time in the military. When I got out of the Army I moved to Boynton Beach, FL to begin going to college. I am currently a full time student at Palm Beach State University. I got open water certified almost as soon as I moved to Florida in May 2011. Since then I got my advanced open water certification and have spent at least three days a week diving aboard Dolphin Sun Dive Charters. I have over 400 dives in my short one-year certification. My favorite thing about SCUBA is spearfishing and all the stories everyone tells when they get to the surface. My favorite place to dive is the Sky Cliff wreck in 205’ of water just off the coast of Boynton Beach. I look forward to taking the “challenge” and meeting new divers. I may have some vision problems, but on thing I can see for sure is myself on the podium in the end.
Dustin was born in Houston, Texas and raised in the Houston area.
He joined the Marine Corps after High School where he received the top swimming qualification of the Marine Corps (WSQ), something only 2% of all Marines have ever achieved. He has been diving since he was a kid (looking for golf balls in the lake) and was PADI certified in 2003.
Since then, he has received his Dry Suit Certification, Black Water Ops Certification, Full Face Mask Certification, Full Face Mask PSD Diver Certification, Rapid Deploy SARR Diver Certification and Rapid Deploy SARR Tender Certification.
Despite all the qualifications, diving is a hobby, not a career. Dustin owns a Bail Bonds Company in Conroe, Texas and has been a bail bondsman for the past 12 years. He is also on the Montgomery County Precinct 1 Dive Team. His most memorable dive was his first with the dive team into black water. “I had never experienced anything like that before.”
Dustin enjoys traveling in his spare time and has been to 5 different countries in the past year. He is “very competitive and is looking forward to the challenge of the show.” And, as luck would have it, Cozumel happens to be his favorite place to dive!
Grew up in Chicago, currently living in Wheeling, IL. IT Director for EPIX, Inc. PADI Master Diver.
Erin began her love affair with Scuba Diving wile on vacation in St Maarten where she earned her Open Water certification on New Years day, 2002. It was truly a new beginning that changed her life dramatically. On her return to San Diego she immediately enrolled in and Advanced course where she was wooed by the power and hidden beauty of California's cool waters. It was in this class where she met her UDC partner Nikole Ordway. They've since shared many dives together and Erin is looking forward to their next great adventure - The Ultimate Diver Challenge.
Erin became a PADI instructor in 2005 and takes great joy in introducing people of all ages and abilities to the joys and wonders of the ocean. She earned her bachelors degree in Marine Biology from San Diego State after which she moved to South Florida in 2009 where warm waters and coral reefs beckoned her to explore. It was here in South Florida where she was bitten by the wreck diving bug and went on to earn her Normoxic Trimix certification so she could safely explore the deep wrecks that rest just off shore.
Erin renews her passion for diving at least twice a week on her days off by slipping beneath the surface and it's only on the stormiest of days will you find her on land, complaining about her gills drying out. Her years of diving in various environments, pursuit of challenging advanced Scuba certifications and her comfort in the water will be a force to be reckoned with in the Ultimate Diver Challenge!
My name is Jim Gazica and I am a PADI Scuba Instructor and operate Washington Scuba Center in Washington, PA.
I started diving in 1993 as something really cool to do with my wife. While doing our Open Water Training Dives my wife realized that she was having a problem with a tooth. This caused her not to dive for a few years. I only dove very little because it was something we were supposed to be doing together. She finally got her tooth fixed with some major prodding. We received a “Going Out of Business” flyer from Washington Scuba Center and we decided it was time to buy our gear. After we made our purchase the original owner of the Dive Center mentioned to me that he thought I had done a good in my initial training – maybe I consider buying the business. We thought about it and decided to go for it. This took place in December of 1996. At the time I did General Contracting work and owned my own business. For a short time I had to rely on other Instructors to do the teaching. After a few problems with scheduling I decided it was time for me to get my Instructor rating. I became a PADI Instructor May 10, 1998. The Dive Center has had its growing pains over the years. As life goes – I became divorced. As luck would have it – I crossed paths with a wonderful woman, Beth Cochran, who loves diving as much or more than I do. With her help – as well as the help of others in our Washington Scuba Family – the business is doing nicely and growing.
I am very much looking forward in participating in the Ultimate Diver Challenge, especially with the fact that I have Beth as my Dive Buddy.
Jimmy Fultz, originally from Englewood, Ohio, now living in Columbus. When I moved into my first apartment in Columbus, I noticed that 2 blocks away was a Scuba shop. Passing by this shop almost every day, my interest in diving began to grow. After several months of talking to the store owner, I finally convinced her that even though I had never made the first dive, I was the right one for the job. My part-time job at Aqua Immersions began in March of 2010 and I received my open water certification in May of 2010. After continuing to receive multiple certifications, I found my most interesting was my ice diving certification in February 2011. June 2011 I became a PADI certified Dive Master. By this time, I was helping to run the shop, teaching discover scuba classes, and a certified service tech. I made several good friends in this area, also my dive buddies.
Keep in mind that all of my certification dives took place in the scenic quarries of the great state of Ohio. My dive buddies give me a hard time about being the only Dive Master who became certified without diving salt water. My first salt water dive was on a live aboard dive ship for 7 days in the Bahamas. I now work for American Airways, which adds another element to my love for diving. I can now fly for free to new destinations and create new dive memories. I look forward to meeting new divers and sharing new dive experiences in this upcoming challenge. I also look forward to diving without my dry suit and not freezing.
Marc has been a diver since 1996 while he was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield Ga. After an 8 year break from diving he was able to find the time to jump back into the water with both fins and had never looked back since. He has since logged hundreds of dives and obtained his PADI Divemaster certification in 2009. He considers himself an Intermediate diver who loves to teach and mentor. Not only because of the excitement of being beneath the waves but also being able to see and study areas of the world that very few people ever get the chance too.
Marc credits his wife Tricia and his children Karlie, Erin, and Jesse who continue to motivate him in furthering his diving education. He shares his passion with his family who loves being in the water with him. Although they are not divers yet, he has enjoyed many hours snorkeling all over the world with them. They are frequent Cruisers and have actually lost track of all the Caribbean Islands they have been to. Marc admitted that if it wasn’t for his wonderful family he would not be the person who he is today.
He was born in New Haven, CT and Attended High School in Meriden, CT. He came to realize his calling in life was to help others. At the early age of 14 he decided to join the local Fire Dept as a Junior Fire Fighter. After graduating High School he enlisted in the US Army as an AH64 Apache Helicopter Electrical Tech. His first assignment was in South Korea and helped field the first Apache Battalion in Korea where he stayed there for 14 Months. After South Korea the Army stationed him in Savannah, Georgia. While stationed there he was able to get involved in NASCAR. He started a race team at the local dirt track near Savannah and became an owner/driver with much success. It was there he also was introduced to the ARCA series. He volunteered for a local ARCA driver and became a tire changer and mechanic. He was also able to make contacts with some Sprint Cup teams and also volunteered for them on the weekend as a race day crew member. After leaving the Active Duty Army he returned to Connecticut for a few years while serving in the Army Reserves. While in Connecticut he also became a volunteer firefighter again where he received his Fire Fighter Certification and offered his time for the 9-11 tragedy. He also continued his love for NASCAR by becoming a crew chief for a local race driver and also worked for a NASCAR Bush North team. Marc decided to return to the Army full time and became an Army Recruiter in 2003. He was stationed in Summerville, SC and recruited for the Army Reserves from 2003 to 2007. It was during this time that he once again realized his love for public service and became a Reserve Sheriffs Deputy. He attended the Police Academy in the evenings while recruiting full time for the Army and was sworn in on Sept 11, 2006. He volunteered and dedicated most of his free time to helping the local community. In 2007 Marc became a Unit Training NCO with the Army and was moved to Wilmington NC. He continued to work for the Sheriff’s office for an additional 2 years making the 4 hour drive each way almost every weekend. While in NC he again became a volunteer fire Fighter and an Medical Responder and advance to the rank of Lieutenant. Marc also volunteers his time at an Assisted Living Facility, which his wife is the Director.
Marc and Tricia have 3 children between them and enjoy traveling and taking short trips on a moments notice. During their time off from their busy schedules they love hanging out on their boat and use it as a floating condo on the water. During the summer months Divemaster at SCUBA shops in Myrtle Beach SC and in Carolina Beach NC. He has plans to retire from the Military in 4 years giving him 24 years of service. From there he has plans become a full time deputy until their children graduate from school. Retirement in the Caribbean would be his dream while continuing to enjoy his passion of diving.
Hi, I’m Melinda Burnett, a participant in the Ultimate Diver Challenge 2012. I am 53 years young, mother of Jarrod, and grandmother to Gabriella.
I am a certified surgical technologist and certified surgical first assistant. I have been in the same career for almost 30 years. At one time I was what the medical industry calls a “traveler”. I took medical assignments that lasted from 3 months to 1 year at different medical facilities throughout the U.S. Thus, giving me a chance to decide where I wanted to live. I knew I wanted to be near a coast and Florida seemed the perfect fit. I love what the Sunshine state offers and cannot imagine living elsewhere at this time in my life.
Relatively new to scuba diving, I became certified a short 14 months ago by SSI instructor, dive boat captain, and my soul mate, Capt. Wil. Since then I have logged 300 plus dives. The Atlantic Ocean is my backyard and has the most incredible reef system.
I am really excited to be a part of the Ultimate Diver Challenge. I love a challenge and will give it all I’ve got. I may not be as experienced as some, but I will make that up with courage and spirit. My dive partner and who I already call the Ultimate Diver, is Derek Jolly.
Let the games begin!!!!
Monica was born and raised in Ohio and recently moved to Florida. She first learned to dive to impress a man she liked. Although they never dove together Monica kept diving and became a scuba instructor in 2007 in Roatan, Honduras. Monica is the Friday crew for Diveboat Diversity and an independent scuba instructor. When not diving Monica stays busy with a financial planning and tax business, kayaking, biking, and canyoneering. Monica lives in Delray Beach, FL with her boyfriend Jason and her dog Ginger. Monica's life motto is "when you see your life flash before your eyes make sure it is worth watching".
Nikole Ordway started diving as a kid in San Diego, CA. She went to college at San Diego State University earning her degree in Biology and joined the dive team at the college with Erin Porter. She worked as an underwater research diver, a US Navy Marine Mammal Trainer/dive supervisor, and a dive instructor for Sport Chalet all in San Diego. However, in 2008, she longed for warmer waters and relocated to Oahu, Hawaii working for Island Divers Hawaii and Aqua Zone. While in Hawaii she earned her 100 Ton Coast Guard Captain license and joined the global coral reef monitoring team, Reef Check. In 2009, she relocated to Florida, first starting out at Pro Dive USA but finally landing at Force-E Dive Centers as the Social Media Director, Events Coordinator, and dive instructor. Currently at Force-E Dive Centers, Nikole offers classes and events with the following non-profit organizations: Reef Check, DAN, Shark Savers, REEF, Florida Hawksbill Project, Diveheart, and more.
I was introduced to diving 12 years ago when I got my Open Water Certification. I was amazed at the world below the surface. My travels revolve around diving. I just love it, it is quiet, peaceful and truthful and yet one of the most powerful elements I have ever experienced.
In 2010 I decided to pursue a profession in diving and never looked back. At the Sea Experience in Fort Lauderdale, I became a PADI MSDT and recently an instructor for the Handicapped Scuba Association and have been smiling ever since. I have the most exiting, fulfilling and challenging job! Working with the Sea Experience team is a privilege and an honor. Being able to contribute to opening up this world to others, is a gift. Without Scuba, 70% of the world remains a mystery. This is my life now.
My dive buddy Tyler -I trust his judgement and abilities above and below the water. I believe we will compliment each other in the challenges we will face as a team. But, when we compete against each other...Sorry Ty, but with my drive, confidence and focus, I alone will be the ultimate diver.
My name is Rob Dysert and I am from Columbus, Ohio. Originally from the small town of Dunkirk,Ohio. I moved to Columbus 10 years ago. Growing up in the Midwest, scuba diving was the last thing on my mind. Being from Ohio, we played football along with other sports. And during the summer, we worked on the farm bailing hay and straw. Not once did diving in the Ocean ever cross my mind. But after trying scuba and getting certified in 2007, I love it! I think if more people tried scuba it would grab hold of them like it did me!
I currently work as a production teamleader for Honda of America Mfg; in Marysville, Ohio. I have been with Honda for over 10 years and work with several of my dive buddies. My dream is to someday retire and teach scuba diving as my full time job and or hobby.
My first interest in scuba was when I took a snorkeling excursion during a trip to Puerto Rico. I wanted more than to just float on the surface and see what was down below. So as soon as I returned home, I went to my local dive shop and certified in the cold quarries of Ohio. While diving the quarries I knew I wanted to do more with my diving and even go farther.
I am now certified up to DSAT Tec 50 and recently my full cave certification. I received this through the NACD and NSS-CDS in High Springs, Florida. Along with my other certifications, I also have my PADI Assistant Instructor. I spent 3 years working part time at a local dive shop here in Columbus. I gained even more experience, met new people and most importantly gained new dive buddies.
I have many dives under my belt but the most memorable dive was on Lake Huron. I dove the wreck Dunderburg in water 150 deep and 39 degrees. That wreck went down in 1868 and was a wooden cargo ship. After all these years of being submerged it still has the mast standing tall and perfectly preserved. Another dive that I will never forget was cave diving at Devil's Ear in Florida, which raises the bar of diving to a whole new level of intensity.
I look at myself as a very competitive person in whatever I do, whether it be in sports, diving, or just everyday life. I really look forward to this challenge! I also look forward to meeting all the new people and see what they have to offer.
Roger is self-employed as a marketing representative, and is owner/operator of Big Daddy’s Sweets concessions and PB-Photobooth in Palm Beach County.
He was a competitor in last season’s UDC in Cozumel, Mexico where he was a top 10 finalists. This year he and last season’s 1st place winner Ed Finck (and previous rival) have teamed up to become team FlaVa.
As a local resident, he is very excited to have UDC in Palm Beach County. Roger says, “It will give everyone the chance to see we have the best diving in the U.S.A.”
I have been scuba diving ever since I was 10 years old and still look forward to every opportunity to go diving. I am 25 years old and was born and raised in sunny south Florida. I graduated Cum Laude from FSU with a Bachelors degree in Finance. I am currently a PADI certified Open Water Scuba Instructor and enjoy showing others the beauty of the ocean, when I am not working in the dive shop. I have been lucky enough to dive many places around the world but would have to consider my two trips to Truk Lagoon, Micronesia my favorite. I am a huge fan of deep wreck diving and that is arguably the best place for that. I know I have what it takes to be this year's Ultimate Diver based on my dedication, focus and training. Another asset I feel is just how comfortable I am in the water, I have been a swimmer my whole life and am almost more comfortable in the water than on land. Unfortunately for my dive buddy Robert Moores I feel that my youth will be the factor that gives me the edge in winning this competition, but will be happy to buy him a beer when I win!