What grit, determination, and radical faith can do.
by Angie Davis-Beyer as told to Karen Foster
My lips trembled as I stared into the deep end of the indoor swimming pool. It was inches from my face; I could smell the chlorinated water. But when the dive master asked me to lower my head into the pool, I froze.
He might as well have asked me to walk. And I don’t mean walk on water. I can’t even pour a glass of water — not since the day I became a quadriplegic. So why was I determined to get my scuba diver certification?
I was always athletic and adventurous, wanting to experience life to the max. Plunging my car down a 25-foot ravine and severing my spinal cord in two places, however, was not on my bucket list. Not at nineteen, when my life was only just beginning.
Miraculously, I survived. But the accident left me paralyzed below the neck.Therapy and reality
July passed, along with August and September, while I endured intensive physical therapy. Wired since birth to have my own way, I was determined to walk. When people told me, “You can’t do that,” I would prove to them I could, even to my own detriment. Despite the odds, I truly believed I’d walk again.
Reality didn’t sink into my thick skull until the physical therapist cleared me to go home. His words punched me in the face. What do you mean go home? I’m not better. How am I going to live like this?
As my mom pushed my wheelchair down a hallway toward my hospital room, I burst into tears and uttered words I’d long denied: “I’m never going to walk again.”
This was a side of me that my mother rarely saw. Deeply moved, she took me outside to a private patio and left me alone with my grief.
I envisioned the places I wanted to visit. I thought of my goals: a college degree, a career, marriage. My health and dreams seemed gone — but only momentarily.
A week later, I returned home for my twentieth birthday. I celebrated my life and vowed nothing would hold me back. Just because I’d lost the use of my limbs didn’t mean I’d lost my zest for living.
I refused to let the word handicapped or disabled define me. In my book, being a quadriplegic just meant I had to find another way of doing the things I loved to do. But if anyone had said I’d be a certified scuba diver, I would have laughed.
The thought of going underwater made my heart race. After the accident, part of my physical therapy took place in a swimming pool. I couldn’t kick my legs or paddle with my arms, but my body could float. I also had some mobility in my left arm to attempt a backstroke.
When the therapist turned me over to show me how to swim underwater, I panicked. Though common sense told me I wasn’t drowning, I struggled to give up control and trust someone else with my safety.
Eighteen months later, I enrolled in a college swim class so I could use the campus pool as part of my water therapy. On one occasion, when my caregiver tried to ease me into the pool, I slipped out of her arms and fell like a limp rag doll to the bottom of the pool. I was instantly rescued, but fear of drowning anchored itself in my mind.
And yet, it didn’t prevent me from rising to other challenges. Within five years, I had a bachelor of science degree in computer science and worked for Hewlett Packard in Boise, Idaho. That’s when an able-bodied friend of mine suggested we learn how to scuba dive. I thought she was nuts, but the idea intrigued me.
Fulfilling a dream
An organization called the Alternate Mobility Adventure Seekers helps disabled people participate in outdoor sports and activities — my dream come true.
A staff of able-bodied instructors and volunteer assistants stood ready to help me — the only quadriplegic in the group — with outdoor adventure. Only one stipulation: My friend or mom had to come on the excursions to care for me. That’s all I needed to hear.
The scuba class consisted of bookwork, exams, pool training, and an open water dive. The head knowledge would be easy, but the physical training would present a test. I couldn’t put my thumb up or use hand signals, so we had to create special signs, like nodding my head to communicate underwater with my dive master.
The first time I put on my scuba gear and actually got into the pool, my heart pounded. My instructor took time with me and waited for me to calm down. Knowing I had an oxygen tank also helped me relax.
Passing the exam
One of the requirements for scuba certification is swimming four laps in the pool. Most people, including paraplegics, swam the distance within fifteen minutes. It took me two hours using the one-armed backstroke, but I succeeded.
My final exam was an open-water dive in the Snake River Canyon near Thousand Springs, Idaho. I was nervous, but my desire to pass the test and get my scuba diver certification kicked in my adrenaline.
Breathing deeply, I was lowered into the water. It was murky, filled with silt, but I trusted my dive master to guide me.
At the end of the dive, I rose to the water’s surface with a sense of accomplishment. I was a certified scuba diver! Me!
For one of our outdoor excursions, our group drove to the coast of Washington State. Knowing the water was icy presented a new challenge, since quadriplegics can’t move around to regulate our body temperature. Extra precautions would have to be taken to prevent excessive heat loss.
My friends dressed me in a thermal wetsuit to insulate my body and a waterproof dry suit. Add to that my mask, fins, heavy scuba gear, and a weight belt, with extra weights to keep my buttocks from floating upwards. I was quite the sight.
I lay on the beach, my immobility and added weight making me feel as though I were suffocating. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
But I refused to cave in to fear or discomfort. This ocean dive was a lifetime opportunity, and I didn’t want to live with regret. I thought of Proverbs 3:5, 6, written on several get-well cards I received while in the hospital: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. . . . In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (NKJV).
God had been my arms and legs so far. Surely I could trust Him to go with me into the depths of the sea. I gritted my teeth.
I cleared my mask.
I nodded to the dive master and allowed him to pull me under the ocean’s surface and into another world.
Despite my cumbersome physique, we moved through the water like graceful manta rays. Ocean life with all its brilliant colors outshined any concerns of mine.
At the end of the day, relaxing on the beach, I sighed, “Wow! I never thought I’d do that.”
With new confidence, I sought more outdoor adventure. Over the next seven years, I also learned to water ski and snow ski. But my favorite activity: whitewater rafting.
After a ten-day excursion, my greatest satisfaction came at night while we camped next to the Snake River. Between the serenity of a star-studded sky and the camaraderie of friends around the campfire, I wanted to pinch myself. And I would have — if I could have.
As the fire crackled and crickets sang, I thought of my rebellious teenage years. It took a car wreck to get my attention and a paralyzed body to make me trust the only One who could give me the desires of my heart.
Now I’m in my fifties and suffer from osteoporosis. My brittle bones can’t endure rigorous activity anymore. Otherwise, I’d consider skydiving.
But that’s OK. I have my memories. And I know the God who directs my paths is in control. I can trust Him as I follow in His footsteps.
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