Disabled Slovenian diving group IAHD Adriatic granted permission to dive unique site
Damjan Peklar is a man who does many things. He has jumped out of airplanes, rides motorcycles, and cuts through ice to dive. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the Slovenian diver spends most of his life in a wheelchair.
Despite the limitations from spinal cord injury, soon, Damjan and other divers from the International Association for Handicapped Diviers Adriatic (IAHD Adriatic) will have the opportunity of a lifetime. After two years of waiting, Russian authorities finally approved their application for diving in the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC). The approval could not be made without great suport from Russian diving federation (CRASA) and Fond Dostupnaja Sreda which are taking care for disabled diving in Russian federation.
Located in Star City, Russia (Zvyozdny Gorodok), the GCTC is one of the most unique dive environments in the world. Named after Yuri Gagarin, the first human being in space, the GCTC will welcome the Suunto-equipped divers into an area where Russian cosmonauts train to execute operations in the weightlessness of space.
“This opportunity is the first of its kind in the world,” says Slovenian C.M.A.S. disabled diving advanced instructor Branko Ravnak, principal organizer of the IAHD Adriatic. The indoor dive tank is a massive 5,000 cubic meters in volume, 12 meters in depth, and offers 45 viewing windows. It houses unique sights for scuba divers, including full-size mockups of Russian space station modules.
The team is supplied with a range of Suunto diving instruments, including the Suunto HelO2, Suunto Vyper; Suunto D4i, Suunto D6i, and the Suunto D9tx. Diving product manager for Suunto, Anna de Torres, shares excitement for the IAHD Adriatic divers. The group is so inspiring, and we´re very happy to support them in this unique project,” she says. “To dive in the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center is the opportunity of a lifetime, and we look forward to hearing how it goes!”
For many, it’s an act of overcoming adversity. “My doctor told me no way,” says IAHD Adriatic diver Klaudija Poropat. “She said it wasn’t possible for me.” But despite the challenges and the naysayers, the divers continue. So goes the IAHD Adriatic motto: “If I can drive, I can dive!”
One of the most active divers is instructor Damjan Peklar (the first and the only one C.MA.S. instructor on the world who is in the wheelcair and carries instructor licence), who suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle crash. With Damjan and the other divers, the enthusiasm for underwater activity is most easily visible when the divers fearlessly enter the water – whether it’s with the help of able-bodied assistance, or, for many, under their own power. “Just because one cannot walk,” says Damjan, “does not mean that one is confined to a wheelchair.”
The can-do attitude has brought these divers out of their wheelchairs, into the sea, and soon, to a one-of-a-kind dive environment at the GCTC.
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About IAHD Adriatic
The groundwork for the IAHD Adriatic organization (a member of C.M.A.S. - Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquantiques ) began when diver Branko Ravnak took a trip to Murter Island, Dalmatia, back in 2002 with the first group of six divers after SCI (Spinal Cord Injury). Among them was also Ales Povse the most decorated disabled diver on the world (he was diving with Bullsharks on Cuba, under the ice ...).
“We didn´t have any idea how we were going to do it,” recalls Povše, “we just went.”
Since then, the goal of IAHD Adriatic has been to teach people who’ve had a spinal cord injury to be entirely and completely independent in the water.
To learn more about the IAHD Adriatic or help support their mission to reveal the thrills of underwater exploration to handicapped divers, visit their website at www.iahd-adriatic.org.
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