Prof. Dr. Grundmann has been in a wheelchair since a diving accident. However, his walking disability doesn’t stop him from diving. He continues to practice his profession as a doctor and tells us about his passion for watersports.
Dr Grundmann, you’ve been a diver for a long time. What made you take up the sport?
Thomas Grundmann: "The beginning was a bit strange. I had been in the navy and air force and I wanted to transfer to naval medical service as a doctor. So I applied for a diving physician course and was accepted. That was a bit strange for many, since there’s no direct connection between the air force and a diving physician course. I then did a three-month intensive course in diving medicine at the Naval Institute of Maritime Medicine in Kiel. During that time I did a lot of diving, both for the navy and privately. Until I had my diving accident. Then I stopped diving at first."
You have been disabled since your diving accident. Did you ever want to turn your back on diving afterwards?
Thomas Grundmann: "On the one hand, it was a matter of dealing with my fear and coming to terms with the incident. Usually diving is over after such an accident. But I went diving again just to get over the horror of it. The first time was in Mauritius, with an excellent dive guide who took very good care of me. I began slowly in the dive pool, checking to see if I was still familiar with the basics. After that I could go diving freely. In the meantime, I don't dive deeper than 15 metres. That's the limit before you enter the realm of saturation diving.
On the other hand, the underwater world is absolutely fascinating for me. It’s an experience that’s always worthwhile. That's why I also promote diving as an inclusion sport, to show everyone that it's doable. You just have to follow certain rules and take precautions, but basically anyone with walking disabilities or other physical limitations can dive."
Are there any differences in diver training for beginners with disabilities?
Thomas Grundmann: "Since I already had diving training before my physical disability, it was a special case for me. I didn't have to do any additional training. But even with a disability, you have to learn the basics. And these include swimming with fins, if at all possible. You also have to learn how to move your body underwater, which is much more difficult than normal swimming. You have to learn buoyancy control and you also need to know how all the equipment works. Basically there are no differences in training, but certain basic requirements must be met. For example, you must have an intact respiratory system and lungs, as well as some residual mobility. In any case, you’ll need a valid scuba diver’s medical certificate before you can start diving training. In the pool, you can then try out how to best move forward – depending on your personal limitations. In some cases, you’ll need a trained dive buddy to accompany you on each dive, but the equipment is the same."
You mentioned diving in Mauritius. Does that mean that despite disabilities you’re not limited to the dive pool?
Thomas Grundmann: "It’s possible to dive in open water as well as in the dive pool, although it can get very boring in the pool. After all, you only see the tiles. If you want to experience more while diving, it’s best to dive where there’s wildlife. And it doesn’t have to be to Mauritius, you can also dive in Germany. It’s just more pleasant for me personally in warm waters."
Are there any diving locations that particularly fascinate you?
Thomas Grundmann: "Egypt, especially Red Sea, isn’t very far away and has great diving sites. El-Gouna, for example, is an Egyptian lagoon town with many barrier-free hotels. There are also good dive schools there, which also offer dives for divers with disabilities. The guides know certain reefs where they take you out. It’s all very well organised."
Would you say that diving is an inclusive sport?
Thomas Grundmann: "As I said, I can report positively on Egypt. There, safety is top priority and they offer excellent assistance. Germany also has dive schools that offer inclusion diving and are even more specialised than those abroad. The main thing is that the conditions are right for diving with a disability, for example you have to be able to get on and off the boat, have easy access to a toilet on board, etc."
Does diving offer any advantages for you since your accident?
Thomas Grundmann: "Unfortunately, it hasn’t improved my ability to walk. I can still walk about 100 metres on crutches, but other measures are better suited for that. Diving is mainly for my head. But I can imagine it’s better for others as long as they dive regularly."
Have you tried out other water sports besides diving?
Thomas Grundmann: "I used to be an enthusiastic windsurfer and regularly visited boot Düsseldorf to stock up on equipment. Now I’ve started kitesurfing. There’s a kite school in Nieblum where you can learn kitesurfing sitting down. I’ve also tried wakeboarding and it’s great fun. In Hamburg there are an incredible number of waterways and I like to go kayaking there. All I need is someone help me into the kayak and hand me the paddles - and off I go! Paddling is especially good for paraplegics in wheelchairs. With a safety course you can get started quickly. I’ve also been sailing, but again I needed help getting on the boat. I’ve also done stand-up paddleboarding in a sitting position. And last but not least, I love swimming."
What advice would you give to people who want to try diving but are still hesitant because of their disability?
Thomas Grundmann: "Have courage and give it a try! You can do much more than you think – which is amazing. As a person with a disability, you can't just hide out and let life pass you by. The important thing is to ask around. If you dare, you’ll be rewarded with a great feeling of success and beautiful experiences in nature and in the water!"