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Amber Rangel – She Is An Adaptive Scuba Diver

We’re amazed by this woman’s ability to break down potential limitations. She epitomizes courage and strength. Meet Amber Rangel. She is…. an adaptive scuba diver.

“My name is Amber Rangel. I grew up in the Midwest, only an hour from Chicago. I was always in the water – whether it was swimming, waterskiing or kayaking. When I was 7, I joined the Ski Broncs waterski show team. I was on the team for about 6 years before I decided to train strictly for barefoot water skiing. In July 2015, two weeks before my national competition, I fell and injured my spinal cord. I was only 19 years old.

I am a C5 incomplete quadriplegic. This means I have no movement below my arms and no fine motor in my hands. I was in the ICU for five days before I headed to an inpatient rehab. I spent almost five months relearning how to do day-to-day tasks. With my new fear of the water, even taking a shower was unbearable. Just the thought of the water hitting my skin took me back to that traumatizing day on the river. Everything about the water creeped me out. With a spinal cord injury, it is impossible to regulate body temperature. The cold was like needles on my skin. I knew I needed to conquer that fear before I let it consume me. Baby steps is what it took. Pretty soon I was able to get in the pool a few times while in rehab with the help of my physical therapists.

Once I returned to my parents’ house, I started to fall into a depression. Almost everything was completely flipped around. My family and friends reached out to me with many ideas to get me out of the house and active. Just two months after leaving rehab, I showed up for my first adaptive snow skiing lesson! Two volunteers at the event really helped bring back my desire and curiosity for thrill-seeking and adventure. They also invited me to a Diveheart event the following week.

Diveheart is an organization that uses scuba therapy to help people with cognitive or physical disabilities. I was very skeptical about the idea. How were they going to take a quadriplegic underwater? Is this safe? Where is this going to take place? I was nervous when I showed up, but everyone was so welcoming and made me feel comfortable. At this point I was still afraid to have water hit my face, so I chose to use a full facemask. My Diveheart team successfully got me underwater that morning. I’m so glad I pushed myself to get into the water that day. Diving has given me confidence to conquer my fear of the water.

After about a year of pool dives, I won a scholarship through Diveheart’s Amigo program. This gave my sister and me the opportunity to go to Cozumel to become open-water certified. After that trip, I was hooked! I continued to do pool, pond, and quarry dives for the next nine months.

On a whim, I decided to join Diveheart in Utila, Honduras in September 2016. I was warned not to bring my power chair because there wouldn’t be a way to get it onto the island. So, I was off to Utila in my hand-me-down manual chair. I spent the week with a group of students learning the Diveheart curriculum to be able to be an adaptive buddy. When I dive, I have a team of 3 or 4 people with me at all times. They are also trained to do transfers to and from my wheelchair. While I was there, these students were able to get hands-on experience that their text book could never offer.

Scuba diving has helped me grow in ways I didn’t think possible. It has and will continue to show me new places to explore. Unfortunately, not all the locations I’d like to visit are accessible, or even allow adaptive diving, but I hope to change that in the future. Scuba diving, for me, is about being looked at as an able body rather than a wheelchair-user. Diving allows me to be weightless, a feeling I can’t have on land.

She is brave and she will go where she pleases.”

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Amber is one of the many fabulous women we’re featuring in our Everything She Is series. We’d love to feature YOU too! Email with your “She Is” story (i.e. She Is Following Her Dream, She Is a Scientist, She Is a Rock Climber) and your favorite pic. Submissions can be anywhere from 200-800 words.

We can’t wait to get to know more of you, and to share your stories!

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