Rancho Santa Fe resident becomes world’s youngest PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver


At just 12 years old and one day, Rancho Santa Fe resident Tennessee Cumming became the world’s youngest PADI Junior Master Scuba Diver after completing the required dive for certification by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) on the island of Taveuni in Fiji on May 17.

Tennessee, also known as “T,” completed final requirements to earn his Junior Master Scuba Diver rating at 8:35 a.m. local time at the Korolevu dive site, a part Rainbow Reef in Taveuni, Fiji. He was accompanied by his mother, Allison Cumming, his dive instructor Elizabeth “Bethy” Driscoll (PADI no. 268541), Frank W. Whippy (PADI no. 489496), Morisio Qiolele (PADI no. 464868), Peter Koroibola (boat captain), and Alfred Celua (mate). T’s final dive required that he demonstrate competence at rescuing an unconscious diver (his mother) at a depth of 30 feet. They entered the water at 7:30 a.m. and exited at 8:20 a.m. local time. There was a small celebration with friends and family upon T’s return to expedition base camp at the Tides Reach Resort in Taveuni, Fiji. While there are many other Junior Master Scuba Divers in the world, T completed the certificate younger than the existing youngest diver.

Fiji was chosen as the destination the dive would take place as a way to make it a special trip for T’s record attempt. PADI is the world’s leading scuba diver training organization and his new rating as a Junior Master Scuba Diver is recognized as the pinnacle of recreational diving achievement before the age of 15. Especially since T is just 12 years of age and is diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, oppositional defiance disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, as well as a processing disorder.

T started diving during Thanksgiving break in 2012 when he was eight and a half years old. His grandparents took the whole family on a trip to Bora Bora. One of the activities offered at the resort was a Bubblemaker program, which is an introduction to the sport. “T asked if he could go because he wanted ‘to see what was underwater,’” said Allison Cumming, his mother. “He completed several dives that week and each time he finished a dive he said ‘best day of my life!’ We had never heard him say anything like that before. Other than building Legos and playing with his brother there was nothing else he seemed to like to do. We were thrilled and vowed to get him diving again.”

PADI was scheduled to award T with a Junior Master Scuba Diver certificate, certification card and emblem patch. Representatives from PADI have also discussed with the Cumming family making T a PADI Child Ambassador, to generate awareness and passion for the love of diving among a new generation of swimmers and athletes throughout the United States and beyond.

“We are just so proud of T for accomplishing this record,” says Allison. “Diving has become T’s ‘island of competence.’ Raising a child with significant learning differences, it is easy to get caught up in reacting to the challenges they face, rather than focusing on the positive and nurturing their strengths and interests. Even though we knew it would be difficult for him, we knew it was possible even though T mostly kept to himself and seldom expressed interest in sports or other physical activities. Working with Bethy and focusing on his diving has also enabled T to blossom in other areas of his life. He is more communicative and does better in school. The way he expresses himself has improved, and he shows increased mental flexibility. T is just a happier kid.”

T is in the seventh grade and attends The Winston School in Del Mar, which offers a college preparatory program for bright, creative students in grades 4 through 12 who struggle with autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, and other specific learning disabilities or learning disorders.

Tennessee and his family live in Rancho Santa Fe. When T isn’t diving or in school he also enjoys playing with his 13-year-old brother Case and his 8-year-old sister Samara, riding his bike, swimming, playing video games or playing with his Legos.

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