Versha Mohanlal Rowjee – Age: 38 – Spina Bifida

Versha Mohanlal Rowjee – Age: 38 – Spina Bifida:
Swimming with the fishes: a whole new world
I was born with Spina Bifida. This is a congenital spinal cord defect. The effect is that I have dislocated joints, deformed bones, muscles and nerves from my hips downwards and club feet. My legs are very weak with almost no muscle and strength and restricted mobility thereof.
As a child I wished I could swim because it looked like a magical trick to me when I watched other children swim. But alas! The opportunities were limited by perceptions that a person needs to be able to use one’s legs to swim and kick in the water; something I was unable to do. At the age of 25 I DID learn to swim – not through kicking my legs in the water, but because when I put my head under the water, my legs floated very easily! I loved the sensation! I could swim! It was a whole new discovery for me – no crutches – no wheelchair – just me – freely floating in the water. It felt as though the water supported me and enabled me – as long as I trusted the water – there was harmony between us …..
My family home town is Mokopane in Limpopo province so we often went to Warmbaths for holidays and long weekends. On one of these trips, I was swimming in the pool at the Hydro. I later got chatting to a very kind gentleman who said that I looked like a mermaid when I swam. I told him that because of the poor blood circulation in my legs, I got very cold and could not swim in cold water. He took my address and sent me a dry suit, which he said I could try and it would help me stay warm when swimming in cold water. This happened about 10 years ago.
When I think back to this meeting, I believe that the forces of the universe were conspiring to affirm the fact that one day I would be scuba diving – even though I did not think so until a few months ago… but how much more real could this be when we arrived to do our scuba diving pool session at the Hydro at Forever Resort Warmbaths on the 19th February 2010? This was a dream come true for me….
And then the journey (of 1000 miles?) began and off we drove to Mozambique. I had been to Mozambique before – when I was a year old, on holiday with my parents. I have a picture of myself sitting on the beach, covered in sea sand and the wind blowing my little curly hair. Here I was; back after so many years, on the most amazing adventure of my life.
The night before our first dives in Mozambique was so high on nerves. I was part of the second group to dive, and I thought the people on the first group were so brave! We were all so excited – just remember to breathe – I told myself – the first rule of scuba diving – never hold your breath – how ironical – this was a breath taking experience!
When the people from the first group came back from their dives – we were all around them wanting to know how it was. There were smiles, tears, cheers and hugs all around. But still nothing could brace me for the experience I was to embark on and discover for myself. Off we went, wedged onto the boats – out to sea. My gear was put on, I was given instruction on how I was to enter the water and I decided that this was it! Just follow the instructions and breathe!
Down I went, with my instructors – just breath, just breath, just breath – equalize, equalize, equalize… and then it happened …. all my worries dissolved – were taken away by the mighty ocean. Wow, I thought, this is it – this is magic – that’s all! Yet it was everything – it was perfect. I felt like the mermaid – swimming with the fishes. They swam past me; almost as though welcoming me to their beautiful world. It was so friendly, calm and peaceful. I wanted to laugh – to cry – I thought to myself – what did I do to deserve this?
But there was a whole lot more that went into those moments of realization – the instructors, the course directors, trainers, sponsors, owners and staff of Guinjata Resort, our families and friends – those we went with and those we came back with. Thank you, thank you and thank you to everyone.
I was seriously traumatized by a robbery in June last year. My life changed after that – I never laughed again, I gave up on who I was. Last night I met friends who I have not seen in a few months, and they said to me, what happened – you look great – you are back!
This experience has brought me back. The ocean dissolved my trauma, the fish welcomed me and my friends and dive instructors showed me so much of love. I started to believe again that I will be ok.
Thank you, thank you and thank you to everyone.