Underwater poker event will assist boy go on scuba journey

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A group of adventurers held an annual poker tournament to raise money for a charitable cause Saturday night.

It wasn’t your average Texas hold-’em poker night.

Scuba Adventure in Jefferson City holds the tournament underwater at the Jefferson City YMCA. The game is intended to benefit Diving with Disabilities (also known as Dive with a Cop).

The charity gives people who normally wouldn’t get a chance to breathe underwater a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the client’s skill level allows, they will get to learn what it feels like to be weightless underwater.

Law enforcement officers and other participants of all walks of life participate in the fundraiser.

This year, the event was intended to raise money to send Declan Johnson, 14, on an ocean adventure to CoCo view, a diving resort in Honduras.

Declan, who has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair to get around, said he’s been diving for about five years at Scuba Adventure in Jefferson City.

“It gives me a little more freedom than I have on land,” Declan said. “It definitely takes had work.”

Declan said he also enjoys the camaraderie that comes with being in the pool with his instructors and coaches.

“I’m making some good progress,” he said. “I’ve been learning things you have to know about diving.”

Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman, who owns the dive shop, said about 25 people of all ages signed up for Saturday night’s underwater poker tournament.

It costs about $2,100 for each person to fly to the Honduras, undergo the experience and return, Heitman said. And the goal is to take Declan and his mother, Amanda Johnson, for the experience next January.

With any luck, the fundraiser would net about $1,000 so there would be more fundraisers upcoming, Heitman said.

He added Declan is a certified scuba diver, but he has never been in the ocean. So, he’s excited for the boy’s experience.

“Declan loves being in the water,” Amanda Johnson said. “Five years ago, we did ‘Dive With a Cop.’ Declan took a huge liking to Chris. He just loves being in the water.”

Bo Peters said he had realistic expectations about his underwater gambling abilities — he was one of the first participants eliminated last year.

“My Texas hold-’em game hasn’t been too good,” Peters said. “It’s OK, because it’s a good cause.”

The entire event is “cool,” said Greg Mihalevich, a dive shop service tech and one of Saturday night’s dealers.

“Declan’s a neat kid. And I like being around other divers and having fun,” Mihalevich said.

Declan put his dive gear on and, with a chaperone, began swimming around the pool at the YMCA, where the tournament was held Saturday.

He thought he might peak at some of the players’ hands, Declan said.

And, he said he was excited for the chance to go on the diving adventure.

“It’s supposed to be this really cool diving experience,” he said.