Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wheelchair-bound Scuba Instructor

From The Scotsman.com news

DIVING INSTRUCTOR

Fraser Bathgate, of Lochend Road, has been paralysed for the last 23 years

It was a fall from a climbing wall when his safety rope was unclipped that left Fraser paralysed from the waist down. A climbing instructor in London at the time, he crashed 25ft on to a concrete floor, damaging his spine so badly he would never walk again. But the 43-year-old's disability hasn't prevented him from becoming the world's first ever wheelchair-bound fully qualified scuba diving instructor.

"Underwater you have 360 degree movement," he says.

"So I've been able to develop and refine techniques that let me use my hands for more movement rather than my legs. I'm also working with companies who have developed special propulsion mechanisms which I'm hoping to use when I train other people." The turning point in Fraser's life came when he went to Dubai in 1992. The former James Gillespie's pupil was encouraged to try scuba diving - and he found the weightlessness underwater gave him mobility.

Since becoming an instructor in 1994, Fraser has mainly been teaching other physically and mentally disabled people to dive and adds that it helps them to realise that they are not limited by their disabilities. "Diving gives people a whole new lease of life and it's amazing to see how people's confidence rockets when they realise they can do it.

"When I first started diving, it was mind-blowing because I found that I could do everything everyone else could do underwater and it suddenly gave me so much freedom that I didn't think I'd ever have again.

"I see exactly the same thing when I'm instructing. The benefits from both a physical and mental standpoint are just so huge. I still get a few people who can't believe that I could be a diving instructor, though. They see the wheelchair and just go 'you're what?' when I tell them.

"But it shows that you don't have to be held back by having a disability. I'm doing it for other disabled people now to try and show them that it's possible for them to do it too."

See also Disabled Diving at http://scuba-doc.com/divdis.htm