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Jul 29, 2013

Visual impairment does not hinder Rowan Garel from diving the Blue Hole

Blind since birth, fourteen year old Rowan Garel has taken on another grueling and if not the most daring challenge, that many others who are sightly wouldn’t dare. He has climbed Victoria Peak, Walked Across Belize and over the past weekend, Rowan took on a Dive into the Blue Hole. Family, friends and a host of well-wishers were on hand for his latest adventure to raise funds for the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was also on hand when Rowan took a plunge into the waters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The magnificence of the Great Blue Hole, made famous by renowned explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, is certainly one of the top ten scuba diving sites on Earth.  Every year thousands of deep-sea divers descend into the bowel of this cenote to admire the grandeur of its karst limestone formations.  Below the surface of this vertical cavern, walled by stalactites and stalagmites, some over a hundred and fifty-three thousand-years-old, is a world entirely onto itself.  Teeming with a diversity of marine life, including giant groupers, nurse sharks and sea turtles, the Blue Hole National Monument, a World Heritage Site, was established in 1996 as a protected area.

 

Today, after weeks of careful preparation, this ancient submarine sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef Atoll will be discovered by Belize’s youngest pioneer.  Of course, getting here was no easy charge.

 

Rowan Garel

Rowan Garel, Adventure Diver

“It’s challenging in a way because you have to take a course and it’s like going to school and you don’t really want to do that during the summer but you have to.  Better safe than sorry and I don’t regret doing the course at all.”

 

To brave the waters of the Blue Hole, fourteen-year-old Rowan Garel must first become PADI certified, a demanding process which includes theoretical and applied training in both scuba and open water diving.  His instructor, John Searle, is an old salt.

 

John Searle

John Searle, Dive Instructor

“With Rowan, he was a very quick learner and actually better than some of my other students because he really pays attention.  He listens, he pays attention and he does exactly what you ask him to do and so, I don’t think that there’s one skill that we actually had a real problem with.”

 

With the necessary tuition under his belt, Rowan, along with a dedicated team of supporters, departs from the Radisson Pier in one of two dive boats chartered for this occasion.  It’s a little after seven a.m. and our destination lies forty-three miles east of Belize City.  To get there we will endure an hour and a half of rolling surfs; intense wave action, in some areas, that sees our vessel heaving against the crashing sea.  In our wake is Lady Grace.  Its passengers include Rowan, his older sibling, their parents, as well as a host of friends.

 

Given its name by British diver and author Ned Middleton, the Great Blue Hole is fringed by a circular coral bed.  With a diameter of a thousand feet and an estimated depth of four hundred and twelve feet, Cousteau’s declaration decades earlier is also acknowledged by the Discovery Channel.  In 2012, it was ranked as the number one Most Amazing Place on Earth.

 

Rowan Garel

“I feel really excited, I mean, I just want to get in the water and experience the Great Blue Hole.”

 

Before making his descent sixty feet beneath the surface, Rowan is given a final briefing.

 

John Searle

“I want you guys to get in the water first and then Rowan and I are going to be getting in afterwards. On this boat you’re going to be doing a giant stride entry.  So, get all your gear and take your fins to the back and then stand up between the two bars that are on the platform and then make sure there is air in your BCD.  Put one hand to hold the mask and the rig and make your big giant stride out into the water okay, and then just float out there and wait for Rowan and I to come in.”

 

Along with their wetsuits, these recreational divers will also be using an underwater communication device through which they will be talking to each other.  The team readies itself by suiting up and checking individual gear.  Our final exchange before going overboard concerns the challenge of this latest adventure versus his previous terrestrial conquests.

 

Rowan Garel

“I do think this will be the least strenuous because you’re just swimming through the water at neutral buoyancy so it’s very easy and with the Victoria Peak or the Walk [Across Belize] it is very strenuous and very demanding.”

 

Moments later, Rowan plunges into the azure depths of the Caribbean Sea.

 

The story of Rowan’s ability to overcome the challenges of the Victoria Peak, the Walk Across Belize and Diving the Blue Hole, despite being visually impaired, is testament to an inseparable bond that has been formed between Joe Garel and his son, a kinship which truly exemplifies the fact that there is no love like the love of a father.

 

Joe Garel

Joe Garel, Rowan’s Father

“It’s just the way we raise our kids.  We, Milagro and I, spend time with our kids, you know, doing things with them.  Things, whether it’s like this or a little more subtle but we always spend time with the kids.  Now, what you have to understand when it comes to the bond is that blind people depend a lot on other people to help them around, you know, to do certain things because they can’t see.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“As a parent, how does it feel to see your son accomplish such a feat that the average person wouldn’t either dare or get an opportunity to dive the Blue Hole?”

 

Joe Garel

“I grew up very active, you know, either playing football or basketball or something like that, you know, jumping on a bus and going all over the country hiking everywhere, you know, all kinds of stuff like that and I know my kids, they enjoy doing that kind of stuff as well and as long as they are willing to and are up to doing that kind of stuff then hey I’ll be sure to give them the opportunity to.”

 

Those opportunities and the values therein have taught Rowan how to become a man for others.  This feat, the first of its kind by any blind person, is his way of helping the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired to raise much needed funds for its annual summer camp.

 

Rowan Garel [File: May 23rd, 2013]

“My motivation is not, “Oh you’re Rowan, you climbed Victoria Peak, you walked across Belize.” I’m not interested in that. What I’m interested in is raising funds and awareness for the only program in Belize that deals with blind or visually impaired people and they have a rehab program which is completely free of cost. Take that away and all the blind people, like myself, will just be behind with everything, there would be no one there to help them along and that is what motivates me.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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