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Wheelchair hero hits new depths.

WHEN sports nut Fraser Bathgate was involved in a freak climbing accident almost 14 years ago, his world was turned upside down.

A professional rock climber, Fraser ate, slept and drank the sport.

He was at his happiest risking life and limb on treacherous 14,000ft summits in the French and Swiss Alps and rising to any challenge Mother Nature could throw at him.

But he was robbed of his mobility in 1986 when he fell from a training wall in London after another climber stole his equipment. The drop was only 25ft but Fraser smashed both his feet and compressed his spine.

What followed was six years in and out of hospital, and countless agonising operations. And when Fraser was told that he would never walk again, he fell into a deep depression.

But something unexpectedly happened to him during a trip to Dubai in 1992 which made him change the way he viewed his life.

He joined a friend on a scuba diving course after instructors told him he could do it even though he was paraplegic.

He quickly proved to be a natural and went on to become the first person in the world to qualify as a diving instructor from a wheelchair. It has opened up a whole new world. Where once he took on nature's tallest structures, Edinburgh-based Fraser is now conquering the depths.

The 37-year-old travels the world teaching people how to dive and making the sport more accessible to people with a range of disabilities including muscular dystrophy and cerebal palsy. He said: "Diving is the only sport which lets a disabled person leave their wheelchair behind.

"It totally changed the way I look at things when I found I could explore a 3-D environment without any help. People who are initially reluctant to get into the water don't want to get out because they are enjoying themselves so much."

When Ford heard about Fraser's work, they donated a specially-converted Galaxy people-carrier to help him transport disabled trainees to dive sites.

The 1.9 TDi which normally costs around pounds 19,000, is also used to carry equipment including oxygen tanks, buoyancy aids and dive charts.

Fraser even uses it to hold his pre-dive briefings and safety talks.

He is currently planning to take a group of people from the spinal unit at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital to Florida for the diving trip of a lifetime.He said: "The Galaxy has been brilliant. It has been converted to allow me to drive using hand controls ,which means I don't have to wait for inaccessible buses or expensive taxis.

"There is a 12 volt socket which allows me to hold briefings at the back of the car.

"It has made such a difference to my life it is scary."

Ford are leading the industry with a pounds 6million information service which helps disabled people with information on motoring and mobility. Around 90,000 people are driving specially converted vehicles through the scheme.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Wilson, Colin
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 18, 2000
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