Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 00:06 UK

'My stroke didn't stop me diving'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Larry (green face mask) and helper
Larry needs assistance diving

Larry Cotton loves diving. Being able to propel himself through the water gives him great joy, particularly as in his daily life Larry is partially paralysed following a stroke three years ago and needs a wheelchair to get around.

Larry, aged 78, first started diving at 52, but after his stroke no-one would insure him and he resigned himself to retiring from the sport.

"It was then impossible to dive with anybody, because you need a medical certificate to say that you are fit," he said.

Chance to dive

"I found it impossible to get one. I went down to the doctors and he said I was wasting my time and that nobody would ever sign me off."

But, on a holiday in Tenerife, Larry heard of the Scuba Trust, who were able to get him back in the water.

The freedom that a disabled person has underwater is an amazing feeling and it is something that you cannot get on land
Gill Cullwick

Gill Cullwick, of the Scuba Trust, said it had been set up in 1996 by a number of diving enthusiasts to give people with physical disabilities an opportunity to experience the pleasure and excitement of scuba diving.

Over the years they have taken people diving who have arthritis, spina bifida, stroke, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, as well as people who have been disabled in accidents.

Feeling freedom

Gill, who is herself disabled, said diving gives people like her a chance to experience more movement.

"The freedom that a disabled person has underwater is an amazing feeling and it is something that you cannot get on land."

Larry Cotton
Larry loves the freedom he gets from diving

Larry agreed: "Diving now isn't quite like it was before.

"First I couldn't move round much on my own, but after practise I could propel myself along, which was a great feeling."

Initially, Larry spent his time in a swimming pool so that instructors could spend some time with him and make him comfortable and at ease in the water, despite his weakness on one side.

After several sessions in the pool, he signed up to go diving in Egypt's Red Sea.

"It was marvellous," he said.

"I can't really swim like I used to and two of the instructors have to come into the water with me.

"But I have been to the Red Sea twice now, which is fantastic. The colour in the Red Sea is something you can't describe.

"I did not think I would ever dive again.

"I would recommend diving if you like being in the water, it's the closest thing we can get to flying."

Diving benefits

Dr John King, medical director of the London and Midlands Diving Chambers, said, where possible, people with disability should be encouraged to keep active.

"Some illnesses, including stroke, are life changing and enforce a change of direction in habits, hobbies and recreational pursuits," he said.

"A lot of people may find that they will have to stop diving, paragliding, etc, simply because the logistics of keeping on with them are insurmountable.

"The fact that something or some part does not work as we would like does not mean we can or should let all the other working parts fall into disuse.

"If that means that a recreation needs some modification - do it, if it means that some alternative should be found - look for it.

"Do not sit supine in God's Waiting Room."

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