Kathe Davis relishes being underwater because it temporarily eases her severe nerve pain and damage. It makes her feel free. CONTRIBUTED

“I love the water. When I’m in the water, I get a little bit of relief from the severe nerve pain, and that means a whole lot.”

Kathe Davis talks to the Weekly about her love of diving from her home in Homestead. Most of the year, she lives in Evergreen, Colorado, but every winter, she comes to Florida to dive the Keys with Daniel Blezio.

“I really like North Dry Rocks, because there’s this little yellowtail fish, and every time Daniel and I have gone there, the same little fish swims up to my nose,” she said, laughing. “Daniel says, ‘Your friend is back!’”

In 2011, a tree fell on Davis and paralyzed her from the armpits down. She recalled waking up at a hospital in Colorado specializing in paralysis, where a doctor talked her through the accident and what was going on.

“It’s traumatic. You just don’t know what to expect,” said Davis of how she felt at the beginning of her recovery. “You’re smacked, blindsided. You have high hopes that you’re going to beat this and walk again, but the odds are against you. And once that sinks in, then you gotta get used to what you can do with your life.”

Davis had been a long-time diver. She loved the sport before her accident and was happy to participate in a scuba program during her rehabilitation in Colorado. Refreshing her love of the water even with her “new normal,” Davis was referred to Tom Dailey for her Keys adaptive diving. 

Dailey had a custom-built boat with a lift on the back where a traditional dive platform would be. It can raise and lower a diver with a disability to the water. Dailey is good friends with Blezio, and both would work with Davis as handicap-certified dive buddies to help her get back in the water.

Daniel Blezio helps Kathe Davis dive as an adaptive diver. Handicapped scuba association-trained dive buddies know how to assist with all aspects of diving. CONTRIBUTED

Davis explained the importance of having a trained dive buddy as an adaptive diver.

“I’m lucky in that I have full use of my arms,” she said. “Say you were a quadriplegic and all you have are your head and neck, then your dive buddy would have to do everything for you — weights, fill your BCD, guide you around.”

For Davis, the worry is where her feet are because she can’t feel them. Blezio ensures her feet are “where they need to be” instead of dragging on the reef and destroying it, Davis’ big fear. 

Daniel Blezio helps Kathe Davis dive as an adaptive diver. Handicapped scuba association-trained dive buddies know how to assist with all aspects of diving. CONTRIBUTED

“Two years ago, Daniel bought the boat from Tom and took over being my dive buddy,” Davis said. “He won’t give me back to Tom,” she added, laughing.

Blezio told the Weekly, “Kathe loves to dive. She feels free, completely free when she’s underwater. I met Kathe because I was hired to guide her underwater because I have the skills she was looking for, but we connected and became best of friends.

“We have done 30 dives to date, and I trust him with my life, obviously,” Davis said.

After one of those dives, Davis asked Blezio what his dream was. 

He told her about Neptune Scuba Ventures, his passion project. He would use his skills as a dive instructor and his own life experiences to help at-risk youths through a scholarship program. By the end, Blezio plans for participants to be trained dive professionals with solid life skills and certifications they can rely on.

“I saw what kind of passion my friend had, and I wanted to get involved,” Davis said. “I want to see young people succeed, and I also want Daniel to realize his dream.”

She funded the initial two scholarships, which went to local youths who are now Advanced Open Water certified and working toward more certifications. Both told the Weekly that the scholarship and training are providing them with viable backup career options they didn’t have before and giving them more hope for the future.

Michael Midling and Austin Bailey, the first two recipients of Blezio’s scuba scholarship, have completed their open water and advanced open water training, thanks to Davis’ generosity. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

“That makes me feel excited, warm and fuzzy. I’m so jazzed these young men are taking to it,” Davis said. “Daniel was going to have them work with me too, but COVID happened, so I’ll look forward to that next year.”

Blezio remained grateful to his benefactress and friend.

“Kathe is absolutely a one-of-a-kind human being. She is someone who wants to give back to the ones that need the most. With her help, we can grow the kids to have a good shot at life.”

One of Kathe Davis’ favorite dives involved getting to touch this shipwrecked anchor. CONTRIBUTED

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