By Rick Schleicher
In August of 2015, my kinda/almost girlfriend, now wife, Christina came to visit my son and I in the Galápagos, for the first time. From the moment she got off the boat in the Galápagos, it was as if the animals were performing for her. All I needed to do was put her in the right place at the right time, with a little experience, generally not that difficult here. I had ten years in the Galápagos at the time.
I took Christina out to this cove, flooded with sea turtles, fish of every hue, octopi, eels, eagle rays. I’d been out there a couple times in the preceding weeks with some of our guests. There was this one sea lion pup who really liked to play with human visitors. The pup’s mom would look on. The first time I’d seen her she held her distance for a while and then swung through the underwater playground, separating the visitors from her pup.
A Galápagos sea lion female is one of the smaller breeds of sea lions on the planet, but still a couple hundred pounds, a thousand times faster than you in the water and with the teeth of a lion. She kinda freaked our guests out, but when the pup returned and the mom just watched from a distance all went fine.
The second time I was out there, I “checked in” with the mom. Always wear the same trunks, wetsuit, etc. so the sea lions can recognize you. After the “check in” she just watched her kid playing with the other weirdly dressed creatures in the water.
So, I got Christina out there and it is just the two of us, the mom and pup are soaking equatorial sun rays, floating on the water in the middle of the cove, one fin up in the air. I’m taking Christina out to see this gal and her pup. The pup appeared to be tired, just hanging with its mom. I was disappointed Christina wasn’t going to play with this pup (she has many many times since with other pups). I wanted to at least introduce Christina to the mom, of course there is a considerate way you approach. Christina kept putting myself between her and the mom which wasn’t where I wanted Christina. We’re all just floating there, a couple feet apart. The mom leans over and gives me a kiss on the cheek. She would have given Christina that kiss if she had been in front of me, but I got points anyway.
Christina saw how we take care of not only the animals, our guests, but fishermen and farmers who haven’t traditionally been involved directly in tourism and of course all of the other service providers that make up the Come To Galápagos family.
The point of all of this is that less than a year later, it turned out Christina had something she wanted to show me also.
In August of 2016 Christina took me to Cozumel, Mexico to attend something I understood to be called “Dive Hard”, which I figured to be three days of challenging or maybe marathon scuba diving. Turned out to be three days of challenging, felt like a marathon and there was some scuba diving involved.
I was not at something called Dive Hard. I was at something called Diveheart.
We all know scuba diving can have therapeutic effects for anyone. Turns out scuba diving to sixty feet has rejuvenating, life enhancing, life affirming effects for paraplegics and quadriplegics that are hard to conceive of unless you have their circumstance.
Imagine the joy of doing summersaults, initiated by your own efforts. It is as if you are in outer space. The smallest movement can dramatically change your position, whereas out of the water, on terra firma… It can be frustrating in so many ways. Also, there is a pain issue that apparently gets relieved when bodies/spines are under pressure of more than one earth atmosphere.
Start to think about that, being a paraplegic or quadriplegic and then try to imagine what it takes to accomplish taking a para or quadriplegic safely down to sixty feet under water.
Normally we communicate with hand signals while diving, but if you can’t use your hands? You blink in a sequence, of course someone has to be watching you, looking into your mask. And as you can imagine this is stressful for your caretaker as well. The caretakers tag team, five minutes each, max.
Imagine being underwater scuba diving and not being able to move your arms or legs and what kind of faith and trust you must have in your caretaker.
Imagine attempting to convince someone to have that trust and faith in you.
Imagine having it in yourself.
Imagine if the man or woman you are in charge of the mask fogs up so you can’t see each other or the mask is filled with water. You gotta fix it. They can’t.
Imagine coordinating two BC’s yours and theirs and if you get one of them wrong? BC’s are buoyancy compensators, essentially elevators, you push a button to go up or down except that the longer you push the button, the faster you go up or down.
Imagine someone having to squeeze your nose through your mask so that you can clear/regulate (blow) as the pressure builds in your ears while going deeper.
Try to imagine the logistics involved out of the water. Let’s start with getting them on and off the boat, putting wetsuits on, then off and then imagine getting them in and out of the water, tanks and all and of course there are issues with them arriving by plane, hotel rooms, bathrooms, meals…
The only way this gets done is with a group of dedicated volunteers, multiply that times rigorous, stringent training and sprinkle in planets of compassion and there you have, Diveheart. Period.
This month, three of our Come To Galápagos team – Zambo, Alexandra and Shania – volunteered to be trained as Diveheart assistants!
Our guy and gals had only the vaguest idea. This is not hard. It is gut wrenching, bone withering exhausting, melon melting emotionally, self-awareness challenging.
Responsibly helping others can be beneficial to ourselves, particularly in extreme circumstances. Helper and helpee can occasionally, at odd moments get confused in either’s mind, who is which, who is helping who more? Odd tears and you can believe there are plenty of odd moments at Diveheart in and out of the water. Is it rewarding?
Not going to name names here, but I had a late-night conversation when everyone was packing up to leave the next morning in 2016. “Is it rewarding?” He smiled, “It is rewarding in the sense that you have no problem looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning, can even bust a smile at yourself if you’re in the mood. After that, who cares?”
Rhetorical question, neither of us needed to attempt to count the quantity of people that care.
I am smile busting/tear slipping impressed by all of them, the CTG kids (thirty year olds) for volunteering, Christina for all of her selfless efforts, Jim, the founder of Diveheart, the many people supporting his efforts, but most of all, who the Diveheart people celebrate, are most impressed by are the “circumstanced” arriving, taking a chance at a larger life. Would that we were all so brave.