The first open water dive I got to do with Emerald Coast Scuba and Task Force Poseidon, I showed up at the brief time and Jason went with me down to the dock where the boat was waiting. Nevin and Tom were already loading the boat with tanks and equipment. We waited for the other divers to finish boarding the boat before I was the last one on. Tom and Nevin, on the boat; and Jason, on the dock, simply lifted me down onto the back of the boat while seated in my chair. It went super smooth. The back of the boat gave me ample room to wheel around and position myself near my gear. We motored out to the dive site through the Jetties, and I tend to get seasick—so I began to prepare myself accordingly.
I was to be with the first group in the water. Jason would go in first to wait for me. Being on a new boat, there is always a new routine to get down, in regards to entering and exiting the water. The crew made it super easy. I simply wheeled to the back of the boat, and raised my arms Tom got under one, Nevin under the other, and simply picked me up and sat me on the back of the boat with my feet draped over the edge. My gear, which was already rigged up to go, was placed behind me and I strapped myself in. Finally, after donning my mask and reg and doing a quick check to make sure the air was on; I simply held my mask and reg with one hand, and fell forward into the water. Jason made sure everything was good, hooked a buddy line onto me, and swam me over to the anchor cable. Having never dove with Nitrox before, we wanted to ensure everything felt correct. This was also the first time Jason would get to see me in open water and how my body moved—just using my upper body, as I am a T6 paraplegic. We had my legs strapped together at the thighs and ankles with Velcro straps, as it was found my legs still “frog-kick,” decreasing my glide and efficiency.
When we reached the anchor cable, I grabbed on and just began pulling myself lower and lower, hand over hand over hand. There were no issues with pressure for me and I didn’t need to stop to clear, so I just kept on going to the bottom. The thermocline was apparent before reaching the bottom, but after the initial shock, it was refreshing. We swam around for a bit, with Jason attached to me with a buddy line—feeling each other out on what would be the best way for me to enjoy a dive, as I tend to suck a lot of air just using my upper body to propel me. We made our way back to the anchor line, and started the ascent. Reaching our decompression stop, we were holding on, watching the current, and the fish swimming around us—I remembered I was paralyzed again. While swimming, it takes that feeling away—as my body is stretched out, free. The ability for me to move in a three-dimensional space without a mobility-assist—Huge.
We made our way back to the boat; and just as easy as we figured out how to get in the water, we found a way to get me back in the boat. After inflating my BC, the two guys topside simply grabbed me under the shoulder and sat me on the deck in the reverse order we did before, back into my chair. We discussed how the dive went, and made some notes for the next one, while we were waiting on the rest of the divers to surface.
The great thing about diving is there is always something you can do to improve or learn from your last time. It’s much like going to the gym—the constant slow progression of achieving greatness. It becomes a long steady progression that allows you to grow and see gains along the way. Diving is set up much the same way. You can get certified in many other specialties while becoming an overall better diver. There is always room for improvement or something to work on.
Before making our way to the second dive, the rocking of the boat had me again, and I immediately motioned to Tom for the bucket. After my offering to the “chum gods,” I felt better, and was ready to enter the water again. We did our second Nitrox dive, and much like the first time of getting me prepared, it went like butter. Like everything in life, repetition…repetition.
We swam around, and it felt good to get a good upper body cardio session and some good weightlessness. Some minor adjustments were made to the gear and the leg strap setup; but for the most part, we had a good handle on what gear would work best for me, and began to dial in my kit. Upon reaching the surface, I again made an offering to the “chum gods,” and felt better. I knew I was going to need a Zofran prescription if this was going to keep happening, as I loved diving too much to quit.
We got back to the harbor, and once again, just like in reverse order “the three amigos” lifted me up to the dock in my chair, and we off loaded the boat. I was super tired after two dives to my deepest depth yet—70ft and on Nitrox. I was just pushing the boundaries more and more—and that’s what scuba is to me. Taking your comfort level, and each time extending it just a little more than the last. It Builds upon your previous experiences, and grows you as a diver.
Those of us who are adaptive scuba divers have an entirely different set-up and set of protocols in addition to our normal dive duties. Wheelchairs, cushions, changing after dive—all the things that the able-bodied diver doesn’t have to think about, must also be taken into account. I have found that creating a mental check list much like I do when I dive and going over my equipment beforehand helps to alleviate any stresses that may arise. Having that list of things you need to do over and over, like many of the tasks we were taught in the military, it just becomes second nature.