Sharks, stingrays, and barracuda oh my

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Daily Dose on July 05, 2016 # Adaptive Sports

Reflecting on my week long dive trip to Cozumel, Mexico, the one thing that sticks out most in my head is the beauty of breathing underwater out of my wheelchair away from the throngs of living a life as a quadriplegic. The trip was hugely successful, the journey was smooth, the fish showed up big time and my dive family gelled like none other.

Many people have asked me to recount my favorite part of the trip. This is a tough question as there are many answers. Was it the 7-foot shark that swam 3 feet away from me? Was it taking a week away from "all the things" that I deal with on a daily basis in my post injury life? Or was it the remarkable realization that anything is possible? The answer is yes to all of these things. But my true favorite part of the trip was getting out of the chair, breathing underwater and truly being on a level playing field with everyone else in the water, paralyzed or not. It was the most free I have felt since my injury two years ago. I was one with the fish, I was one with my dive buddies Stacie and Krista, and I was one with myself.

The sun was shining every day on us, and the crew from Craig Hospital, A1 scuba, and Dive Paradise delivered an amazing amount of physical, mental and emotional support throughout the entire journey. I felt secure, taken care of, invigorated and overjoyed at sharing this experience as a team. I separated myself from the disability, and my disability did not inhibit my ability to dive side-by-side with my team. I was an equal.

The dive operators at Dive Paradise were seamless in their ability to manually lift those of us in our manual chairs across a 2 feet drop from the pier into the dive boat every morning for our prompt 8:30 am departure. We did two dives every morning for six days with our deepest depth at 95 feet and our longest dive at one hour – quite a feat for all of us. The coral was outstanding and the marine life was abundant including 7-foot-long nurse sharks, massive stingrays eating along the bottom of the ocean, turtles as large as my wheelchair munching on fresh coral and 5-foot-long barracuda percolating around our dive crew with their snarling teeth wondering what we were doing in their underwater playground.

All in all, the trip was fantastic. But I would say the most amazing comment was that of one of my Mexican dive operators named Julio who was an avid diver with the crew and also an Ironman triathlete who had successfully completed six Ironman competitions in his hometown of Cozumel. We connected right away as I myself have completed six triathlons – and we both knew that once you have trained and completed in a triathlon no matter what background – you are in the same club. He had heard of my injury and my story, inquisitively asking my friends on the boat of my history. Emotionally, he declared that I was the true athlete on the boat. This is the greatest compliment I have ever received knowing that it came from another athlete from another country who barely speaks the language. I will forever be grateful to his team and to Julio for making this dream come true for me.

Keep on keeping on,

Elizabeth/EB Forst

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