Marcy Barham has a sickness most would envy.
“I call it the scuba-diving sickness,” Barham said. “You get it, and you can’t turn back.”
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Barham is a dive master and interactive teacher at the Dive Shop in Merriam. She left behind a job in pharmaceutical sales to pursue teaching, and 12 years in, she’s more passionate about the sport than ever.
How does an inlander get addicted to scuba diving?
I grew up as a fish; I swam all the time. When I was in college, a friend of mine asked me to be a guest on his boat. He said, “Get certified, get a ticket and come spend a week on this sailboat.” I called the Dive Shop, got signed up for classes and made my way down to the Bahamas. It grew from there.
Where have you dived?
Most of my dives have been in the Bahamas, but I’ve also dived in Roatan, Honduras; Cayman Brac; Cayman Islands and Chuuk, Micronesia. In Micronesia, we swam around the islands where Japanese ships from World War II had sunk.
I’m certified for 130 feet, but when I was in Micronesia I was dying to see the sunken army tanks. So I went about 160 feet.
Do you collect anything from reefs or shipwrecks?
Just memories and pictures. I’m a firm believer of not touching and not taking. A lot of underwater national parks say you can’t take a grain of sand or a shell. The less we touch, the longer it lasts.
So what’s it like down there in the deep blue?
It’s euphoria. You can go down and tune everything out and just hear yourself breathe. I’ve had a few students with ADD, and they’ve told me that when they scuba, they relax. It’s their opportunity to mellow out and take it easy. For them to be able to do that underwater is neat.
Sounds like you love teaching.
Yeah. It’s hard to make a living, especially in the Midwest, but it fulfills a passion. And I understand what those kids mean. It’s sort of my underwater yoga world, too.
It seems like kicking and swimming would be physically demanding, not yoga-esque
Most of the time, no. It’s a Sunday-drive kind of sport. You just relax, kick and glide.
Is your equipment heavy?
Under or above water?
A tank, BCD (buoyancy compensator device) and regulator weigh about 30 pounds. The lead weights add another 10 pounds or so, but once you’re in the water, all that weight only feels like 5 to 10 pounds, almost weightless.
What kind of certification do you have?
I got my open-water certification in 1999 and followed with my advanced scuba diving certification in 2002 and rescue diver certification in 2002-2003. Completed my dive master certification in 2004, and now I’m starting my assistant instructor program.
Any trips planned?
I always have a revolving list of dream destinations. My next trip will be back to the Bahamas at the end of this month.
What a great excuse to travel.
When you have the time and money.
I do have reservations. Most of them are shark-related.
I’ve never had my life threatened, and I’ve been on many shark dives with blacktip reef sharks, silvertip reef sharks, nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks.
Unfortunately, due to some movies in the ’70s, they get a bad rep. But on average, there are more dog bites each year than shark bites.
I’ve heard your lungs can pop.
The No. 1 rule is never hold your breath. That causes lung expansion. We cover how to deal with all that. If you do what you’re trained to do, you’ll be fine. And nervousness is normal. One of the divers here has extreme claustrophobia, but she can now dive and teach because she allowed herself to work through it.
Is there a good beginner class for someone like me, with zero experience?
At 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings we have “Discover Lessons” for ages 10 and up, and for $15 you can get the lesson and equipment. Just schedule with us a week or two in advance (
Well, maybe I’ll bring the boyfriend along.
If he likes it, then you’ve got Christmas, birthdays and everything else covered. This hobby makes shopping very easy.