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KEY WEST, Florida -- Several thousand divers visit the Florida Keys annually to dive the island chain's shipwreck trail. More than 100 of them completed a series of nine wreck dives to be eligible to win one of several dive and lodging packages and sets of dive equipment, and 10 winners were selected at random as part of the inaugural Florida Keys Wreck Trek Passport Program that ended in January.
Rocky Welch, a diving instructor from Pinellas Park, Fla., was the program's first grand prize winner. He received a state-of-the-art scuba system from Aqua Lung, including a Zuma bouyancy compensator device, Mikron regulator, Airsource 3 second stage with power inflator and a Suunto ZOOP 2 gauge dive computer.
Welch, who thrives on introducing divers to new experiences, accompanied numerous diving groups to the Keys for customized weeklong trips to complete the Wreck Trek dive challenge.
"It's the overall adventure of (the shipwreck trail) that divers love," he said. "There's no other place you can do that.
"On three different Wreck Trek trips, I never saw the same thing twice," Welch added. "My countless trips to the Keys are some of the best dive trips I've had."
The nine other selected recipients were Paul Adams Jr. of Fairborn, Ohio; Patrick Hellman of Tipp City, Ohio; Sarasota, Fla., resident Eric Lyons; Olexander Myronov of Palm Harbor, Fla.; Mike Lesh of University Park, Fla.; Tracy Matthews and Tabitha Dimas of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Clearwater, Fla., resident Sebastian Majewski, and Shari Vang from Baypoint, Calif.
Among their prizes were a SCUBAPRO MK17/A700 Black Tech regulator, Sherwood Profile dive computer, Sherwood Gemini integrated power inflator Fusion dive fins and two-night/three-dive stays for two at Keys lodging properties including Doubletree by Hilton Grand Key Resort in Key West, Marathon's Holiday Inn Express & Suites and Keys Largo's Amoray Dive Resort and Ocean Pointe Suites.
Because of the dive program's popularity, plans are under way for a Wreck Trek 2.0 dive challenge expected to continue through January 2014. Details are to be announced soon. For information, visit www.www.fla-keys.com/diving/wrecktrek.