I am a trained veterinarian who at one-time thought I was lucky in life because I had a career I really enjoyed, and I was always very active physically: running, mountain biking, swimming, doing all types of gym activities (spinning, kick boxing). That was my prior life. Then, in 2002, I was T-boned by a minivan that ran a red light. I was in a coma for 2 weeks and suffered a TBI and left-sided hemiparesis. Currently my left leg is weak, but I can walk. My left arm is useless; I have normal sensation, just no motor control.
I say prior life, since after the car accident I was given a second life, but not one I chose, not the one I had worked hard for, and not one I even liked. The rest of this is from my perspective, since I count myself amongst the luckier of disabled people. I believe that most disabled people experience these negative feelings to some degree and perhaps feel even worse than I do, since I can still work, walk and have a life to live to a limited extent (or a life worth living?). For years I faced frustration and still do for having everything in my life changed for the worse. The ability to learn to scuba dive came at a time in my life when I really needed it the most. It allowed me to be actively involved in a sport I love while at the same time exploring, and enjoying a world that covers a large percentage of this planet. Scuba diving allows me to gain self-confidence, dignity, new skills, and importantly, to be treated like a “normal” human being in though it’s in a defined circumstance.
Despite most people’s intentions to treat a disabled person like everyone else, it often does not happen that way, and a disabled person is always singled out or made to feel different from everyone else. During diving, in a gravity-free environment, they can be who they want to be, like everyone else diving, part a normal group of friends diving and having fun. Another important thing it gave me was an activity that allowed for a quiet time to think through things in my life. This was something I had when I could run. Running gave me time to go through cases in my head, patients I examined that day, re-evaluate their problems making sure I did not miss anything, add or change therapies if I saw they were needed and to call the owners after my run if that was the case. I no longer do that since I no longer practice, but scuba diving gives me those moments to enjoy my environment and to mentally contemplate life. Scuba diving has provided me with a new goal in life to get stronger physically, improve my skills, visit more (sometimes exotic) places and just be a part of life again. It has provided me with a new perspective on life. My outlook on what remaining life I have has changed for the better.
So why scuba diving? I think a disabled person with help, persistence and training can get these benefits and more from diving, a sport where a limited number of “normal “people are trained or willing to do. Any disabled person who wants to try this should be given the opportunity if possible to change their lives and maybe even save their lives.
This trip proved to me I can still do it. Along with that is an ability to build a team(Caroline, Hailey, & Toni), keep them motivated and give them an opportunity to experience new things(while helping an old beat up vet) what a pleasure to see them on their first ocean dives becoming more relaxed over time. They gave a lot, supported me in many ways... just the freshness of their conversations renewed me both emotionally and intellectually. I think it is a good model to match up youth and disabled veterans, it helped me!Jean-Paul Lauren,
As a side note, this trip helped me take some chances and I inquired with a San Diego dive company about working part-time remotely. I got a positive response.
I am refreshed, renewed, and optimistic to get back in the saddle. Diving has helped me realize I can still do it!
Learning to dive has been a dream come true. When I am underwater, I am weightless. I am free; free of my injuries, free of sorrows, free to dream. The men and women of Patriots for Disabled Divers immediately made me feel comfortable, accepted, as part of their family. Their continued support and friendship has been unbelievable.Ernie S,
Submerged in water makes everything topside magically disappear. For once none of my injuries worry me, and for the most part being underwater allows me to forget that I am disabled. If I can do this, then anyone can.Dave W,