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Most of us dive for pleasure, to experience the underwater world, to swim with the fish or to explore a wreck but for one British diver, his reason is different…he dives so he can walk. To prove his point he has just completed his 300th dive with Red Sea Waterworld in Taba Heights.

Most of us dive for pleasure, to experience the underwater world, to swim with the fish or to explore a wreck, but for one British diver, his reason is unique – he dives so he can walk, and to prove his point has just completed his 300th dive with Red Sea Waterworld in Taba Heights.
Mark Chenoweth was born with Spina Bifida, a condition that means the vertebra in the spine don’t fully form and leave the spinal cord exposed, sometimes surrounded by a layer of skin, resulting in a bubble, as in Marks case. Spared some of the possible complications of Spina Bifida, Mark led a relatively normal life until 1996, when he lost the feeling in both legs after attending a lengthy lecture. The wheelchair which he was reliant on was a necessary evil if Mark was to still maintain a decent standard of living.His first experience of diving was in Rhodes whilst on holiday with his wife when he participated in a try dive in the hotel pool, which he enjoyed so much that he went in search of a doctor willing to sign his medical to do an open water dive. Unable to find one, he returned to England and carried on his search. It was to prove no more fruitful, with six doctors, diving and drug specialists, all giving reasons why he couldn’t dive, one even going so far as to say it would be the last thing he did! However, Mark refused to give up even then.On his next holiday, to Minorca, he went through the same routine, but this time forgot to mention a few things (six to be precise!) and was given the certificate he needed! Somewhere between the doctors and the diving centre he decided that if he was going to do this, he might as well do it properly, and by the time he reached the counter he found himself booking a full open water course.
After two days of pool and theory training, Open Water dives 1 & 2 went well, with the anticipated problems easily overcome.Every night when his father in law came to pick him up with the wheelchair from the transfer bus, he could see the enthusiasm Mark had found for the underwater world.On Saturday, when it came to the third dive, a slight hitch with weight belt replacement meant that it had to be repeated, meaning he couldn’t complete the course, as the dive centre shut on Sundays. The re-run went swimmingly and on return to the RIB, Mark realised that his legs felt “different”. Amazingly, especially on a RIB, he stood up!By the time he returned to the hotel, he was able to stroll past his father in law, waiting with the wheelchair, into the arms of his rather stunned wife. To complete his day, waiting at the hotel was a message that the instructor had made provisions for him to finish the course after all, forgoing his beloved day off!Since this momentous day, Mark has learnt many things about this amazing phenomenon. It is only a temporary cure, and dives to 16m have no effect, but at 17m the atmospheric pressure is enough to alter his spinal cord. The deeper he dives, the longer he regains the use of his legs, but the gases are not the trigger, as they return to normal in a matter of hours. A deep dive will keep Mark mobile for nearly 6 months; a 20m dive means he returns to his chair within a matter of days, two weeks at the absolute most. 

Mark has gone on to complete many specialties, including deep diver, become a Rescue diver and has recently gained his Master Scuba Diver qualification.A hyperbaric team have completed chamber dives with Mark, giving the best results due to the oxygen levels, leading Mark to complete his Nitrox qualification for just that reason. The team suggested that he may have a bubble on his spinal cord which is reduced under pressure, but a CAT scan ruled that out and no new theories have been proposed since then.

“The reason remains a mystery” Mark explained to Andrew Day, RSWW manager, saying he is a very lucky individual, not only has he found a way to defy medical science, but the answer is diving, which Mark describes as “the most wonderful hobby anyone could ever imagine”.

 

 

There are of course risks. Going to recreational limits, the lack of sensation in various parts of the body means that if he were to suffer a bend he would not necessarily be in a position to realise it. He reduces this risk by diving well within limits and ascending at a rate far slower than the recommended 18m per minute.

All the staff at RSWW were amazed to witness Marks transformation, who packed his wheelchair away after the first morning. Willy Lumb, Marks guide for his week with RSWW said it was the most astounding event he had ever witnessed. Andrew Day was delighted to enable Mark to get the most from his diving, offering a private guide and free Nitrox for his diving.

With his 300th dive under his belt, Mark is looking forward to the next 300 with great anticipation and is hoping to complete some technical training in the near future. Of course, all the staff wish him all the best with his diving in the future!

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