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Cavediving with a diver in a wheelchair

Discussion in 'Divers with Disabilities' started by Germie, Dec 10, 2019.

  1. Germie

    Germie Cave Instructor

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Netherlands
    Last year I got a message from a disabled diver in a wheelchair: I want to do some cavediving. Is that possible? I know from a few disabled cavedivers in the world. But there is not a lot of information found. And every diver is different. Do you want just a guided dive in a cave/cavern I said? You know caves are not here and it is at least a 10 hour drive? Yes, but I don't want to do just 'a cavedive', I want a course. Hmm, okay. And what is the idea then? I don't know, but I want to dive in caves once in my life.
    So I started to explain things. Cavern is the first step, but real caverns here in Europe can be difficult to be found (or are there and 1 hour later they are gone due to bad viz), or the dives are extremely short (in 10 minutes you have seen the whole cavernzone, of course you can teach a course here, but with just cavern, the first dive after a course will be outside cavernlimits in the cave zone). The next step is intro to cave, that is here mostly the first step taken if people want to do cavediving (combined with cavern). And then you have the full cave step, but that is too far away for now.
    So we talked and talked. The diver has over 1000 recreational dives experience. Is able to dive a drysuit as the temperatures in caves are low here (10-13 degrees, depending on which cave you dive). Dives in winter in the Netherlands (so 3-4 degrees), but short due to the cold. Has very limited strength in legs (can use 1 leg a little bit in the water, can stand a short time at surface without divestuff, after dive not able to stand), has limited strength and coordination in the hands. This means the drysuit has a special bigbig knob on the inflator on the chest. A normal inflatorbutton is too small. The BCD is a I3, with a handle as inflator/deflator. A normal inflator cannot be used.
    Here the first problems start: normal backplate-wing configuration is not option as a normal inflator cannot be used. There must be something more or less available in the front. The same problems start with normal sideount. Bungees: no strength to use them. Cavern can be done single tank, but if you want to dive in the cavezone, something more is needed. Yes, it is allowed single tank, but a lot of divers are not able to open and close valves then. We can put a stage on the I3 bcd for the safety gas. The diver is able to close 1 valve on the back by moving the bcd to the head, but this costs a lot of strength.
    Then for myself: I am able to bring a diver out of a cave, I am not afraid of solodiving. But in this case, I need at least one more diver to help. To get the diver in the water, out the water, but also for emergency. Of course I do solocavedives, I do solo trimixcavedives, but this feels different. That I cannot get dragged out of a cave is an accepted risk for myself. So at least another cavediver is needed. The diver is able to dive on her own, so in an emergency, she can swim out on her own. That is needed to start any overhead dive. I found another cave instructor and another diver willing to help.
    Then: which cave is suitable? Caves where you cannot get a wheelchair to the water are not an option. In Europe a lot of caves need some walking or 'climbing' to get in. But there are some options.

    Let's start first with some skills. We have done a day skills. We did some dryruns, have practiced the use of a longhose, tried some configurations and it looks like 1 steel cylinder on the back as she is used to dive with and 1 ali stage works best. Etc, etc. Yes, it will not be as streamlined as it can be with a normal diver, but it is not directly bad. Current will not be an option. Running a reel when the diver is getting cold does also not work. Not all reels can be handled (the stainless steel knob to hold the spool of the reel does not work, reels where the same knob is made of rubber do work). Reelwork is done slowly as it is for this diver more difficult to learn than for others. But it is mastered. Cavern I don't see problems to teach that, and I have explained that some guided dives a little bit further would also not be a problem I think at the moment. Becoming a cavediver that can do such dives on their own? No, that will not happen. The diver agreed as she knows here limits and knows also that every year there is less strenght, so more and more help is needed. So we try to plan some days diving to make some dreams to come true.

    After the open water dives, we planned some days cave diving and that was done in july: 4 caverndives with skills for the cavernpart and 2 a little bit more in the cave to give the 'real cave feeling'. The diver said her strenght is already going down, so we have to do it now and not wait another few months.
    We did this with 2 cave instructors, 2 people at surface to help with cylinders, wheelchair, putting on drysuit, etc and 1 another strong diver as part of the team. Cavern is the maximum to master herself, but she was soooo happy she has done this in his life. Her musclesstrength can/could be stable for years, but between May and july, it is sadly getting down and down. You see this with handling the 7 liter stage cylinder. In May no problem, in july it gave her some instabilities. The diver went to a doctor 2 weeks before the dives to ask if she was really fit enough to do these dives and she is. Run a reel in, no problem, take the reel out, takes a lot of time due to less strength in the arms then at the beginning of the dive, but if you don't hurry it is done proparly. Exit a cave with zero viz, no problem. So getting out on her own was possible. In a real emergency you will let the reel in. Time is running out for her, she knows that there comes a time she cannot swim on her own anymore, but we are happy that we could give her this once in a lifetime experience and a caverncard, even it will normally never used again. It was for her a step she absolutely wanted to take before it is too late. The best lesson was when she got entangled with her own fin in a line and had to get herself out. She mastered. As soon as she is in the water, she can save herself. In a wheelchair and on land she need a lot of help. A dream came true. And now preparing for her next dream: icediving (and yes, I will help again as soon as we get ice here, that is not every winter).






  2. Vitesse2l

    Vitesse2l Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Devon UK
    Well done. Just goes to show what can he achieved with the right attitudes.

    It would be so easy to say 'no'.
    FreeFlyFreak likes this.
  3. axluba

    axluba Barracuda

    # of Dives: 25 - 49
    Location: Germany
    Respect. As a disabled person I can tell you that not receiving the blanket “no not possible” (most of the time without even a consideration) is very precious!
  4. SandyRobinson

    SandyRobinson Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Moultrie, Georgia
    Awesome! Proud of her as a student and honored to know you.

    From your Tulum November trip new friend.
    Germie likes this.
  5. RyanT

    RyanT ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Maryland
    Wow, really awesome! Thank you for sharing!
  6. Manatee Diver

    Manatee Diver Stop throwing lettuce at me! ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: None - Not Certified
    Location: Tampa Bay, FL
    Can she swim and grip with her hands? I was given a video of wheel chair bound, hands only cave diver that I believe made it to basic/intro level. Of course it would probably only work in high flow caves like we have here in Florida.
  7. Frogkicker

    Frogkicker ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: Georgia
    Congrats and thanks to them for showing that disability means that you are limited, not that you can't. So often people look at the disabled as unable, yet often they are much better at being able to adapt.

    And so many thanks to you, not just for what you have done, and how you handled everything, but for posting it as well. Being a limited (disabled) diver myself this post is truly inspirational !!!
  8. Germie

    Germie Cave Instructor

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Netherlands
    Yes, but not against strong currents. Without currents only the legs are needed to swim. But also slowly.

    This was during 1 of the open water trainingdives:
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  9. Miyaru

    Miyaru Tec Instructor ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: EU
    Making dreams come true requires thinking of solutions, not problems. Awesome achievement in doing so!
    And making dreams come true is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. Job very well done, congrats to everyone involved!
  10. JMBL

    JMBL Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: France
    Respect to both you ladies. An heart warming story.

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