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Published: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Divers at Gilboa Quarry take the plunge in quest for world record

BLADE STAFF

GILBOA, Ohio - It's been tried before: Hundreds of scuba divers donning masks, fins, and tanks, plunging into the water at the same time in an attempt to establish a world record.

But not since February, 2006, when 979 divers submerged off the shores of Maldives, south of India, has such a group been successful.

Operators of Gilboa Quarry in Putnam County and their thousands of visitors hope to change that.

Today, divers from across the country and Canada are gathering in the small town of Gilboa with hopes of making it into the record book. As of late this week, more than 700 scuba divers were signed up to take part.

That's not quite enough, but quarry caretaker Mike Williams isn't worried.

Even if the group comes shy of the 980 divers needed, he said visitors to Gilboa Quarry will have been involved in a feat nonetheless.

"That record was established in warm water, in another country, and in salt water," he said. "This is cold water, this is fresh water, and this is the United States."

The 14-acre quarry sits on about 25 acres of land on the east side of Putnam County. Mr. Williams said divers will have to spend about 20 minutes in the water at a depth of at least 20 feet.

A grid work of lanes will be set up to give divers an area to call their own while in the water and without even using all the available space. Those involved will have about 28 feet of space between them.

Gilboa Quarry, one of three quarries in northwest Ohio open to recreational divers - and with claims of being one of the most popular quarries in the country - draws thousands of visitors a year. Today, many of them will be there at the same time, organizers said.

"It's like the Woodstock of diving. This is the 2009 Woodstock of diving," said diver Jim Richards, owner of Rec Diving in Royal Oak, Mich., who will have 30 divers at today's event. "How many times in your life can you say that you had an opportunity to be a part of a world record by just being a number and by doing something you love?"

A similar record was attempted by fellow quarry owner Jeff Rice in Portage in August, 2006, but the Maldives record stood strong.

Mr. Williams said his idea to break the record evolved a few years ago, but that he chose this summer because recreational scuba diving seemed to need a boost.

"I felt that my decision was going to be based on, 'Could I do this and have everybody remain safe?'•" he said. "I chose this year because diving, like a lot of recreational sports, is struggling now. I thought it would be a great idea to get people excited again."

In addition to having qualified divers positioned within safe distance of each other, safety precautions include trained dive leaders who will participate in the event. Mr. Williams said he will be the last one in.

To participate, divers must register so an accurate number is available. Those registering today will pay $75 to participate in the event, which will take place at 2 p.m.

For more information, go online at www.divegilboa.com.

- Erica Blake



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