Double amputee returns to diving
From scaling Mount Kilimanjaro and ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies to scuba diving Grand Cayman’s famous Kittiwake wreck, Warren Macdonald has accomplished feats that most people only dream of. But the adventure guru and motivational speaker goes to great lengths to carry out his dreams..
Both his legs were amputated after he was pinned for two days beneath a one-ton boulder in a freak hiking accident in Australia in 1997. Since then, he has reached heights he never believed possible. Now he is pushing himself to new limits by re-learning to scuba dive in the Cayman Islands.
Macdonald, who is here as a guest of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and Sunset House dive shop, took the plunge this week.
He said the sensation of diving in Cayman’s crystal clear waters was unforgettable.
“It was great to get that feeling of weightlessness again,” he said. “It was my first time diving since the accident, and I have never really dove anywhere like this before. The Kittiwake was great.”
Macdonald had logged more than 1,000 dives prior to his accident, so it was humbling to have to learn the sport again. The biggest difficulty, he found, was staying upright on the surface – using his core to balance in the water. Beneath the waves, he says, having no legs was not really any hindrance at all.
It’s an approach that he has taken in every aspect of his life. He commonly tells listeners during his motivational talks, “having no legs is not really that big of a deal.”
For Macdonald, an iron resolve not to allow his disability to define him, or even to allow the loss of his legs to be accurately described as a “disability,” has inspired him to meet goals he believes he would never have otherwise achieved.
“I had a buddy in rehab who said losing his leg was the best thing that ever happened to him. I have never found myself saying that, but at the same time, if I had the chance to have my legs and be walking around, I wouldn’t want to go back.
“It has made me grow in different ways. I’m not going to say I never got depressed about it. But whenever I found myself in that place, the question was always, ‘do I want to stay there?’” and the answer was always no.
“I don’t like to be limited or boxed in. I could feel my world shrinking around me after the accident and so I pushed back.”
It took two years after the accident, Macdonald says, for him to get back to the level he had as a hiker and a climber. After that, he started to up the ante.
He became the first double amputee to climb Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and later scaled the daunting El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park in the U.S., a feat that required a staggering 2,800 pull-ups over four days.
He learned to ice climb and made a groundbreaking ascent of Canada’s landmark frozen waterfall, the 600-foot Weeping Wall in Alberta.
After such tests of will, diving in the Cayman Islands sounds like a day at the beach. But it could be just the first step in an underwater adventure to rival his exploits on land and ice.
“For me, this is about going back and reclaiming one of the things I lost in the accident. After this, who knows?”
Macdonald will be the guest speaker at the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s trade show in Orlando next month. Keith Sahm, the general manager at Sunset House, is involved with the DEMA show.
He said he heard Macdonald’s story and partnered with the Department of Tourism to bring him to Cayman.
“He is an absolutely amazing guy. I knew he had been a diver before the accident but had not been since, so we wanted to give him that opportunity.”