The inaugural Dive For A Cure Spearfishing Tournament was held on July 15-16, 2022 at The Divers’ Den in Panama City Beach, Florida.
While spearfishing has long been a popular pastime along the Gulf Coast and there are events and competitions in Pensacola and Mobile, this was the first event of its kind to be held in or around Panama City Beach.
The spearfishing competition was designed as an opportunity to raise funds for a regional Children’s Hospital which helps young cancer sufferers battling the disease.
The event is the brainchild of Colten White, a 17-year-old Hayden High School, Alabama student whose family enjoys scuba diving and spearfishing in the emerald waters of Panama City Beach.
The idea of raising funds for the Children’s of Alabama Hospital is Colten’s way of giving back for the attention and support he has received in his own personal battle with cancer.
“August 26th, 2020 was the date,” said Colten. “After years of tests, being treated for immune disorders, and undergoing biopsies, I was given the news that I had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma.”
The next day, Colten was on his way to Children’s of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham to start his chemotherapy treatments.
“It didn’t seem real. I knew I had been diagnosed with cancer, but what does that mean? Luckily, when I arrived at Children’s of Alabama, I met my oncologist, Dr. Ana Xavier MD. She told me: ‘Everything is going to be alright’ and gave me a huge hug. From that moment on, I knew I was in the right place.”
After almost two years of intense chemotherapy treatment, Colten’s cancer is now in remission.
“Because it was an aggressive form of cancer, the doctors and the team at Children’s threw the kitchen sink at it,” said Colten. “The treatment was intense and at times it can be pretty discouraging. Losing your hair as a teenager is hard to take. It impacts your self-esteem and was perhaps one of the lowest points for me.”
But now, well on his way to recovery, Colten’s hair is back, and the high school graduate has accepted a place at Samford University to study Nursing in the Fall.
The idea for the Dive for A Cure event came to Colten after he and his family had a conversation with the team at Children’s of Alabama Hospital.
“Our whole family spearfishes,” Colten explained. “Some families play football or baseball, but this is what my family likes to do. My brother and I are competitive, we go about 12 miles out, and about 100 feet down depending on the wrecks we’re exploring. It’s something we all adore doing together.”
Colten and his family knew they wanted to do something to raise awareness of children’s cancer and the cures available. They set up Dive for The Cure as their way to give back, inspired by what they love to do – scuba diving and spearfishing.
“Every year, we work with families from across the region to support them, so their kids can get the treatment they need,” said Kerrie Benson, Gulf Coast Coordinator for Children’s of Alabama. “Last year we helped 1,200 children from along the Gulf Coast receive treatment for childhood cancers, sickle cell, blood disorders, and leukemia – irrespective of whether the families had health insurance or not.”
A graduate of Jacksonville State University, Benson has been involved with fundraising for Children’s of Alabama for nearly 19 years, and when Colten and his family said they had wanted to give back, she was eager to help.
“Colten explained his idea, his passion and faith were clear to see, and we worked with him to turn his vision into a plan,” said Benson. “We put the marketing and advertising together, helped with arrangements for the event, and reached out to the important sponsors and donors.”
The event was hosted by Divers Den located on Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach – the oldest dive center in Florida – where the Weigh-In took place on Saturday, July 16th. The dive community around Panama City Beach were all very supportive and local businesses rallied around too, with Marine Max, Captain Jacks and the Sleep Center also providing vital support.
There were prizes for the largest Grouper, Snapper and Flounder caught, and – encouraged by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission – a prize for the spearfisher who collected the largest number of Lionfish, an invasive species with no natural predator in the waters off Panama City Beach, but incredibly tasty and popular for sushi.
“It was incredible to see everyone come along for the fundraiser,” said Colten. “Not everyone wants to swim with sharks, but it was a celebration whether you are a keen spearfisher or you just want to show your support for this remarkable organization and the lifesaving work it carries out.”