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  • Arielle Rausin

Diving In

Updated: Mar 27

I never imagined I would be a scuba diver. Growing up in Florida, I was always an avid swimmer and beach lover, but after my spinal cord injury, I didn’t think scuba diving was in the cards for me.

A young woman with a blue rash guard and scuba gear swimming underwater

How would I carry a heavy tank on my back? Could I balance underwater without using my legs? How would I simply move around on the boat? Anxiety and many questions flooded my mind as they often do when I embark on a trip or activity that I know isn’t traditionally inclusive or accessible.

Then, at 18, I traveled to the Cayman Islands with Stay-Focused, an organization that supports young people with disabilities to become PADI certified scuba divers, and my perspective completely changed. Scuba diving can be accessible to so many people with a variety of disabilities, and now it’s become one of my favorite sports.

The peace that you find underwater is unlike any other. The near silence almost forces a diver to focus in on the beauty of the wildlife that surrounds them. Witnessing all the plants and creatures unique to each diving site also brings about an appreciation for the environment and a renewed urgency that we protect it.

Then there is the thrilling side of diving. Splashing headfirst into the water, diving deep and feeling the temperature of the water change with each meter, the occasional shark or barracuda sighting, there are so many sensations while diving. Each dive, you roll the dice and see what you get.

Wanting to share my love of diving inspired me to become a mentor for Stay-Focused. For eight summers, I have traveled to the island to work with young adults in the program. The trip is not only unique in that participants go diving, but also in that they must travel to the island alone. For many it is their first time flying independently and venturing out in the world solo, something that is often still nerve wracking for me as an adult! But this part of the experience is vital because it truly shows the kids all that they are capable of.

As a person with a disability, I’ve experienced firsthand the limited expectations society often places on our community. Whether it’s around employment, education, physical fitness, or travel, others’ constant narrow perceptions of our abilities can become exhausting. By showing kids with disabilities that they can accomplish something as daring as diving 40 ft underwater, I get the opportunity to watch their confidence blossom. As a result, they don’t buy into these stereotypes and are able to uncover their true potential on their own.

I am currently embarking on my PADI Divemaster certification journey, and again diving has developed another kind of importance to me. A Divemaster is an assistant instructor there to support brand new divers on their path to PADI certification. There are challenging tasks involved including timed swim tests with no aids, full underwater equipment exchanges, and live dive briefings. To say I’m nervous about completing the course successfully is an understatement! But when I feel the doubt creeping in, I pause and reflect on my decade of diving experience and wonder if the voice in my head is my own or once again society’s perceptions of my abilities. I know that becoming a disabled Divemaster will also help to change the narrative on the potential people with disabilities have, and that alone motivates me to keep charging forward.

Scuba diving has made an immense positive impact on my life, and I hope that my Divemaster journey will help me spread that positivity with many others.

Arielle Rausin has a master’s in global public health from NYU’s School of Global Public Health, and she is currently serving as the Director of International Chapters for Achilles International, an organization focused on transforming lives of youth, adults, and veterans with disabilities through athletic programs and social connection. She is the Founder of Ingenium Manufacturing which produces 3D printed racing equipment for wheelchair athletes around the world and for this work was the recipient of the Alexis Wernsing Innovation Award. She has also competed professionally as a wheelchair marathoner for Team USA and Nike, participating in major competitions all around the world.


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