“Seeing Steve overcome, he was amazing. Now I know he can enjoy diving again,” she said.
Her first tour in the National Guard was to Kosovo in Central Europe. When she returned home she had only one month until she was deployed to Iraq in 2006. During an attack on her base, an 18-millimeter mortar exploded behind her and almost destroyed her right leg. By 2011, the pain was unbearable so she opted to amputate her leg below the knee.
“When you choose amputation, you take that 50-50 chance that you’ll still have the pain because of phantom pains. I’m lucky when I get phantom pains, it’s usually five or 10 minutes. It’s not chronic,” she said.
But at one point deep into her depression she attempted to take her life, something she still has trouble talking about. Fortunately she was found and said her life started to change when she got a therapy dog and began diving.
“I’m pain free in the ocean,’’ she says. “The ocean is the one place I found solace so to keep that safe I have to start at the top of the eco-chain and sharks are one of those. If they go extinct, that changes the whole ecosystem,” she said.
Part of the allure of diving is the weightless pain-free environment. But there’s another part.
“Now there is something worth fighting for because we can no longer fight for our country,” Jackel said.
U.S. Army Sgt. Chris Maddeford, the third veteran featured in the film, was hit by an IED and suffered traumatic brain injury, hip and spinal cord damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. Now he is dedicated to helping veterans and has received an award from Congress for his work.
In the film’s trailer, Maddeford’s emotional struggles come through.
“When you go from being a big strong person to needing help…people don’t understand how that makes us feel,” he said.
On the last day of diving, the soldiers explored Shark Canyon off West Palm Beach, where they encountered Dusky and Caribbean reef sharks. Schellenger said the key to producing the documentary is telling the story over a long period of time.
“Just watching Steven, for example, get his balance back. He’s a man of persistence. It’s going to inspire people,” he said.