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Meet Zainab, the scuba diver with one leg

Iraqi Zainab Al Eqabi lost her leg at the age of seven when an unexploded bomb went off in her home

Gulf News

Dubai: Brimming with will and determination, Iraqi Zainab Al Eqabi, who lost her left leg at age seven when a previously unexploded bomb went off in her home from the first Gulf War, took her first dive into a marine world inhabited by 65,000 species at the Ambassador Lagoon Aquarium in Atlantis, The Palm on Thursday.

Zainab, a social media influencer and pharmacist, walks with a prosthetic leg.

As she exerted extra strength and paddled with one leg, Zainab sent a message to the world that “life doesn’t stop when you have a disability”.

The social media influencer and pharmacist, who walks using a prosthetic leg, is determined to fight negative mindsets about people with disabilities. She enrolled at the Atlantis Dive Centre where a special weeklong course, organised in collaboration with Disabled Divers International (DDI), is being run to train people with various disabilities in the sport of scuba diving.

The 26-year-old University of Sharjah graduate with an amputation above the knee told Gulf News that the bomb incident in Iraq made her realise how she is still blessed with other abilities in the face of what she has lost. In her annual goals for 2016, scuba diving occupied a prime spot.

“I was seven [years old], when a tool we were using to fix my bicycle exploded at our home. We had no idea it was an unexploded bomb left over from the war. It was in our house for seven years. As a result of the explosion, I suffered severe leg wounds and then a medical error in not properly treating the wound resulted in the amputation,” she said.

Al Eqabi believes she was lucky to survive and that there are a plenty of good things to experience in life every day, including trying out different adventures, such as scuba diving.

“I’m still in the training stages right now, but the fact that you can move the way you like in the water gives you complete freedom. I have faced no real challenges with this experience, especially with the help of the instructor, who has plenty of experience training people with different kinds of disabilities.”



Zainab Al Eqabi took her first dive at the Ambassador Lagoon Aquarium — a marine world filled with 65,000 species — in Atlantis, The Palm yesterday.  Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News



In a few of days’ time, Zainab is due to receive her licence as a scuba diver. “This will allow me to explore the sea world whenever I travel, and I’m very excited about that.”

Willpower

As she took her first training dive down the 10 metre-deep open water aquarium with full supervision by her instructor, dozens of hotel guests gathered to get a glimpse of Zaiban’s courage and willpower and gave her a thumbs up behind the glass.

Al Eqabi’s instructor, Mike Ceci, who is also the manager of the diving centre and an instructor for DDI, and an instructor for Professional Association for Diving Instructors, said an adaptive training technique is followed in the course based on the person’s disability.

“Everybody can scuba dive because the standards are open to all sort of individuals above the age of 10, but we require a medical approval before starting the actual course.”

The only disability that is exempt from this course is epilepsy, “because these individuals cannot go underwater,”

Ceci said the course begins with pool sessions in shallow water and progresses slowly to deep water of about a depth of three metres.

“Zainab on Thursday was being trained for the deeper environment inside the aquarium. In total, the course includes five pool sessions and four open water dives. The aquarium is considered open water because of the size, depth and the variety of fish the divers experience.”



Zainab Al Eqabi took her first dive at the Ambassador Lagoon Aquarium — a marine world filled with 65,000 species — in Atlantis, The Palm yesterday.   Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News



He explained that the course has a lot of psychological benefits for people with special needs or disabilities, as it gives them the freedom to move around in the water without any restrictions.

“People with mobile disability or visual impairment become more confident to deal with life, and also outgoing and happy. There’s a daily beneficial aspect of this sport for the disabled. People who haven’t been able to move legs under water, began to kick with them. They go in the mindset they are not used to and the brain reacts in a specific way. It teaches them to face different challenges in life.”

Disabled and Proud

The marine creatures inside the aquarium, he added, are not harmful and do not pose any risk to the divers. “They are all fed well and are used to divers swimming beside them.”

Al Eqabi who is very active on social media, has a page on Facebook called Disabled and Proud, which she uses to send out her motivational messages and write about her experiences in life.

“I have learnt to accept everything in a positive way. I like to motivate others through my different experiences,” she smiled.” Life is not about losing a limb or being in an accident or having a scar to cover. Life is way bigger, {i} love it.”

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