Sixteen years ago, a friend showed me a video of one of her dives, and my whole life changed. Suddenly, I was inspired.
I signed up for a scuba class as soon as I could, and began to discover the world underwater. The class was great – it took place in a swimming pool at a local college – but as it was through PADI, and the final exam required four open water dives.
When most people make a guess as to my disability, they usually say Multiple Sclerosis. They’re wrong. I don't get the periods of remission associated with MS. Yes, my disability is degenerative, but no one knows how or why I have it. I’m currently on my fourth diagnosis since the disease’s onset in high school. There are no meds or therapies that can help – but the worst part is not knowing what comes next.
There are three sayings I keep with me at all times to stop it from getting me down. The first is a bumper sticker I've had for as long as I can remember. It says: Attitudes are the Real Disability
I was only able to perform part of the physical skills required for PADI’s open water dive test, so my certification level became SCUBA DIVER. I was limited to a depth of 40 feet. As I progressed with diving, my frustration with the limitation grew. So I kept another of my sayings in mind. This one, I’d gotten from a newspaper:
NOT BEING ABLE
IS NO EXCUSE
FOR NOT DOING
EVERYTHING YOU CAN
For the next four years, I went on diving trips to Florida with my instructor and his class, and one day, a local special recreation association reached out to me. I joined the group at a swimming pool to prepare for a trip, in what the association, Diveheart, calls a DSE (Discover Scuba Experience). Some people keep to the shallow end, while others take classes and become certified divers. I wanted the more exciting dives. That’s how I ended up visiting Cozumel twice, Bonaire and Grand Cayman. Because Diveheart made it happen. And it’s thanks to Diveheart that after dozens of dives – years of wanting, and waiting – I finally dove down to 80 feet.
Safety is the core of Diveheart’s entire mission. I’ve been on trips with paraplegics, quadriplegics and persons with cerebral palsy. Depending on your disability, Diveheart will match you with one, two or three adaptive buddies, all extensively and continually trained.
Does Diveheart make me more comfortable than other diving groups? Yes. But the simple answer to why I’ve stuck with them is simply: 80 feet. They put the emphasis on comfort, and safety, but they focus most deeply on self- responsibility. On one of my first dive trips, the person tasked with switching my regulatory hoses to a full tank forgot. But it was my responsibility to make sure the switch took place. One time, my group decided to swim through a hallway on a wreck we were exploring, but it made me uncomfortable. So I took responsibility: I told my buddies, and we just hung out on top of the wreck. So you see, it's all up to you. I'm sure you've had experiences with the general public where they think they know what's best for you. I know I have. And that's what's great about Diveheart: they may make suggestions, but ultimately, you decide.
There is one last saying that caught my eye recently. “In life, you have three choices: give up, give in, or give it your all.”