Michael's cover image
Michael

Michael LETCH OAM

Year of Award: 2006 Award State: Victoria Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
To study programs that have successfully trained people with disabilities to snorkel and scuba dive and to assist in the establishment of the Australian Disabled Diver's Associations - U.K., Netherlands, France, USA
Download

The 2006 Churchill Fellowship of Mike Letch OAM (1948-2013) from Victoria enabled him to visit top programs overseas devoted to scuba diving for the disabled. At first the brilliance of this idea struck me – the beauty of being weightless and joyously absorbed in that glorious underwater world – but then I was taken aback by the prospect of the danger involved. However, according to Mike, the risks in training a disabled person in deep diving are no higher than those for able-bodied people.

Mike had become disabled when a motorbike accident in 1970 broke his spine. After six months in hospital and a lengthy rehabilitation program, he began competing in wheelchair marathons, continuing to compete in these for 15 years. Then in 2000 some friends took him swimming off Phillip Island in Victoria. ‘I was pretty sure I would drown,’ Mike said, ‘But I discovered I had better movement in the water. The following day I bought a scuba set and it changed my life completely.’

Mike visited Europe and the United States, including that mecca for surfers and divers, Hawaii. He visited places where the idea of diving for the disabled was unknown as well, and he writes in his report of the responses to the idea, ranging from decidedly cool (an unnamed place in London) to an enthusiastic “Let’s shut up the shop and get some beer and you can tell me all about it!” (Los Angeles.)

Mike wanted to raise awareness and opportunities for divers who are disabled, and to build links between them and the generic diving community, culminating in the development of a network of ‘abled diving buddies’.

A highlight of his trip was meeting the wonderfully named Scottish deep diver, Fraser Bathgate, who had become a paraplegic through a climbing accident. Eventually, after Fraser Bathgate overcame the resulting depression, he became the first paraplegic to be a diving instructor, in 1996. He launched the concept of No Barriers, a means of letting people who are disabled know that there are no barriers to learning scuba diving and that all you need is enthusiasm. As the No Barriers website puts it, diving is relaxing and liberating and it is possible to be ‘enabled rather than disabled and enjoy the amazing experience of floating in liquid space’.

Another highlight of Mike’s eventful trip was meeting Dr Chad Dieterichs, a founding member of the Texan organisation, Eels on Wheels. This began in 1991 when a group of scuba diving instructors began teaching people with special needs and/or disabilities how to scuba dive and noticed how positively it affected them, in terms of achievement, social life and self-esteem.

Mike wrote in a Victorian newspaper, ‘People with neurological disabilities find diving redefines their lives. They are constantly told, “You can’t do this. You can’t do that,” but we come along with scuba and tell you what you can do!’

Mike worked a great deal with the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Victoria where the brain injury program is one of the best in the world. Mike achieved what he set out to do – establish the Disabled Divers Association in this country. 

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

Awards and Honours
  • 2012 awarded Medal of the Order of Australia for service to people with a disability through the Disabled Divers Association Victoria.
Related fellows
Leonie JACKSON, Leonie
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2006
Glenda HYLAND-REID, Glenda
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2006
Cheryl LOCKWOOD, Cheryl
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2005
Charles PAYTON, Charles
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2005
Olivia GEMMELL (NOW ANDERSEN), Olivia
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2007
Philip BROWN, Philip
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2007
Ronnie LAM, Ronnie
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2007
Paula PAANANEN, Paula
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2004
Robyn WALLACE, Robyn
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2004
Matthew PERRY, Matthew
Health And Medicine > Disabilities, Impairments And Injuries
2008