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Thread: Breaking away with scuba

  1. #1

    Breaking away with scuba

    Breaking away with scuba

    Modesto Bee
    September 15, 2002

    - Fran Lopes felt free again.

    The 50-year-old from Escalon, Calif., hadn't had that sensation since Nov. 2, 1996, when he hit a jump sideways in a motocross race. He was knocked unconscious and awoke to find that his legs were paralyzed.

    "It's devastating," says Lopes, describing paralysis as "a mental roller coaster.

    "Sometimes the more active you are, I think the worse it is," says the man who used to ride motorcycles, water ski and play softball. "I did everything myself. And now all of a sudden you have to depend on people."

    That feeling of dependency lifted in August, when Lopes took his first scuba dive.

    "It gave me such a great feeling again, like total independence, which was very cool," he says of his descent into the warm waters off Grand Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.

    Lopes was one of 11 divers to make the trip, courtesy of the Cody Unser First Step Foundation. The nonprofit organization was formed in 1999, shortly after Cody, daughter of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., became paralyzed below the chest after contracting transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.

    Stacey Minton had known Cody since she was a little girl. She says the 12-year-old was angry when first diagnosed with TM, but after rehabilitation in a Phoenix facility, the girl was willing to do physical therapy with Minton in Albuquerque, N.M., where they both lived.

    The next year, when Cody was 13, scuba diving instructor Minton taught her the sport in which the girl's divorced parents and older brother, Al, were already certified.

    "She thought it was great," Minton says of Cody, "her comfort level in the water and the freedom of being like everybody else."

    From this feeling was born the idea of introducing the sport to others who were paralyzed.

    It took 18 months to put Cody's Great Scuba Adventure together, says Minton. Disabled people from throughout the United States who had never scuba dived were referred by physicians and research facilities. Each individual chose an able-bodied companion to learn to dive and accompany him or her on the trip.

    Lopes was chosen by the Reeve-Irvine Research Center in Irvine, Calif., a spinal cord injury facility for which he has raised funds through his nonprofit organization Research for Cure. He chose his friend Grace MacLaughlin of Escalon to be his companion on the trip.

    After participants were chosen, the next step was to bring a scuba instructor who lived near each disabled person to Minton's Albuquerque dive shop for training in how to teach a disabled person to dive. To simulate paralysis, their lower limbs were wrapped in duct tape.

    "When you teach scuba diving to people who are relatively the same, it's easy," says Scott Anderson of Scuba Plus in Stockton, Lopes' teacher. There are unique concerns when teaching a disabled person to dive, he says, such as the logistics of getting to the boat, into the water, and overcoming fatigue.

    "We worked things out," Anderson says. "I was worried about how he was going to propel himself through the water, but no problem there."

    From April to August, Lopes, MacLaughlin and Anderson met for at least four hours a week.

    The water part of the class went fine, but the academic work was tougher, Anderson laughs. Because Lopes was putting together a golf fund-raiser for the Reeve-Irvine center, "it was hard as hell" to get him to study, says Anderson.
    Finally, it was time to go to the Caymans.

    The first moments in the ocean were a bit daunting. Lopes admits thinking, "Oh wow, I hope I don't choke on the water. I've (only) been in a 13-foot pool."

    The nervousness passed quickly as he was transported to a different world.

    "Going through canyons, here's this barracuda just cruising by," says Lopes. "The water, it's unreal, like being underwater with reading glasses. Everything is so clear."

    Being around his student made some things come into focus for Anderson, as well. His voice thickens when he talks about the trip.

    He says it's impossible for an able-bodied person to imagine what scuba diving means to a paralyzed man or woman "after years in a wheelchair with the cumbersome reality of not having the use of your legs.

    "For all of us, I think it was life-changing."

    For his part, Lopes plans to spend more time in the water.

    "What I want to do now, I'm so into swimming, I'm going to put a pool in my place," he says. "It does so much for my abs."

    And he very much wants to be there for Cody's next Great Scuba Adventure, even though he'll have to pay his own way.

    "Maybe I'll be a teacher next year," he says.

  2. #2
    Senior Member dogger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Mitchell , Qld. Australia

    higher profile for SCI !

    Is there any way we can convince the likes of Al Unser Jr. to help put the spotlight on SCI and the pursuit of a cure ? motor racing is a very high profile international sport , someone else i think worth approaching , [i just don't know how to achieve this ] , is the head of the williams formula 1 team , mr ...[?] Williams who is [according to my information ] a quad from a car accident . in the USA you have CR to keep SCI in the medias face . both CART and FORMULA 1 are travelling around , and broadcast to the world , they could be useful in forwarding our cause .

    thank you

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