Naperville scuba diver proving that age is just a number

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Jackie Gill, a Naperville scuba diver and resident of Monarch Landing senior community, enjoys playing pool volleyball with her friends. It’s a good way for her to relish in the water when she isn’t diving into the ocean. 

She fell in love with the water as a kid, growing up close to Lake Michigan. It wasn’t until she was in her late 50s, that she went on her first scuba diving trip. Now, 17 years later, she’s completed 985 dives across the world and hopes to eventually become the oldest female diver ever.

With the help of an underwater camera, Gill’s had the opportunity to capture a diverse amount of aquatic life. She’s spent the winter glancing through the photos, patiently waiting to get back into the water.

Beginning to dive at the Great Barrier Reef

Gill’s diving career began in 2007, with a trip to Australia. During her time in Sydney, Gill wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef but realized she needed to earn her open-water certification.

“Illinois Institute of Diving in West Chicago, that’s where I got certified,” said Gill. “And then they would plan trips and I’d go, ‘I’m going’. So I was going like every month, I was going a little crazy, but when you’re retired, you can do those things.”

The Illinois Institute of Diving has helped schedule trips for Gill and other local divers. Gill’s visited hundreds of diving locations, but one has always stuck out.

Naperville’s Gill favorite place to dive

“Grand Cayman is one of my favorite places because they have a lot of caves or swim-throughs that you can go through. And the first time it gets a little spooky because there’s only one way in and out. But those were a lot of fun.”

Swimming with the sharks

The Naperville scuba diver completed all of the 55 designated dive spots at the Grand Cayman’s Green Shorts Challenge. She said it took her four years to complete and was given a medal and a party to celebrate. The Grand Cayman might be her favorite diving spot, as she returns to the island this spring, but it’s also where she got over the fear of swimming with sharks.

“I was so afraid of sharks that we always went in groups when we were diving and so whenever there looked like there was a shark somewhere, I went quick up to the dive masters and stayed behind him because I knew he wouldn’t let the shark bite me,” said Gill. “And then all of a sudden, I don’t know, I started not being afraid of them.”

Gill has also done a fair share of trips to Bonaire, where she became a Bonaire Ambassador, after diving there for ten straight years. 

Her love for the water can be found anywhere, whether it’s in a 4-foot pool, or swimming with the sharks.

“It’s heaven, you know? It’s like floating through the water and It’s very calming.”

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