Cover of The Bucket ListThroughout his 55 years, Peter Gillard of Petoskey has lived life to the fullest.
"He's never let things slow him down," said Amy Gillard, one of Peter's two sisters. "There are things he knows he can't do, things he knows he'll never be able to do, but from an attitude standpoint, he just plows through."
With only partial sight in his right eye, Gillard has been legally blind since birth.
"Never does Peter lay in bed and say to himself, 'Life isn't fair and I'm not getting up today,' said Peter's sister, Lisa Blanchard. "Everything he's ever loved in his life he needs good eyes for, and he's never been crabby about it. He just says to himself that this is his life and this is how I'm going to live it."
Facing challenges head on -- for Peter, that's what life is all about.
So when he told his family he was going to take up scuba diving, an activity that challenges even those with perfect vision, they had no doubt he would succeed.
"I said 'Go Peter,'" Lisa exclaimed. "I knew he would do it."
"You can call it a 35 year goal of mine," Peter Gillard said. "Learning to scuba dive had been in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do some day. So when I saw the movie, 'The Bucket List,' I knew I had to do it."
In January of 2010, while preparing for a family vacation to Hawaii, Gillard decided it was time to test the waters.
"I went to Hawaii with my sister Amy and my mom and we had an old neighbor who now lives out there and she had started a diving company," Gillard explained. "She had me practice in a pool and then we went into a lagoon in the ocean. I saw a turtle and several types of fish and I thought it was pretty neat. I knew I had to take it to the next level."
When Gillard returned home, he scoured the Internet for local scuba instructors and classes and came across Murray Kilgour of Charlevoix.
Kilgour, a certified diving instructor with more than 1,600 dives under his belt, was apprehensive about working with Peter at first.
"I've worked with people with limited vision in the past, but not to the extent of Peter's," Kilgour said. "My first instinct was to refer him to someone else, but then I got thinking about it and realized that even if I lost a good portion of my vision, I'd still want to dive."
Gillard and Kilgour began meeting about once a week.
Together, they would go over diving manuals and worked on reading gauges.
Then on his own time, Gillard watched and listened to DVDs and CDs about diving and practiced procedures at his home.
In July, when Lake Charlevoix warmed up, Gillard began doing all his open water training at Depot Beach.
"Murray pretty much ran me through the ringer from day one," Gillard joked. "I wasn't ready, but I did it even though it was a lot of work."
That first day out, Gillard and Kilgour dove down to an old boat dock that was built in the 1860s, which lies in about 25 feet of water.
"It was just interesting to see, it's like seeing part of history," Gillard explained. "It's just fun being able to touch something that is more than 100 years old."
But there were some scary moments.
Gillard had to learn how to cope with getting water in his mask and had to work on becoming comfortable with his mouthpiece.
Then there's the heavy equipment, which adds about 60 pounds of weight.
"It's physically very tiring, but once you're under water, you're naturally buoyant," Gillard said. "Getting used to that feeling takes some practice and I'm still not good at it."
"He was really determined, that's for sure," Kilgour added. "Ninety percent of learning to dive is being comfortable in the water and he's been in the water his whole life so he came along really well."
After passing a test and several successful dives, Gillard received his scuba certification earlier this month.
Gillard hopes to use his certification not only in tropical locations, such as the Caribbean, but also wants to focus on local dives.
"I was raised in the Alpena area and one of my goals is to dive down to the Nordmeer, a German freighter that sank in 1966 in Thunder Bay," Gillard said. "The ship is kind of beaten up with giant holes in it."
Gillard also wants to work on more open water dives and meet others in the area who share his love of diving.
"I'm sorry I didn't do this 25 years ago," Gillard said. "I think if you want to do something you shouldn't put it off. No matter what it is, it's never too late to find something you really enjoy."
Thanks to Rachel Brougham 439-9348 for such an inspiring story!!!