paralysed dubai man chris colwell
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today

Paralysed Dubai man Chris Colwell,

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Paralysed Dubai man Chris Colwell,

Dubai - Arabstoday

Chris Colwell, a professional skydiving instructor, had made four jumps that day - April 23, 2003 - and everything was going well. Until the fifth dive. One of the sky divers he was instructing appeared to have lost control after jumping out of the plane at an altitude of around 3,900 metres. Desperate to help, Chris, who is also a passionate photographer and had a video camera attached to his helmet, dived out behind him. But he couldn't see the student and a few seconds later he crashed into him in mid-air. "I felt an intense pain in my neck,'' recalls Chris, who didn't know at the time that he'd broken his neck and snapped his spinal cord. Paralysed, he began falling to earth. "At one point, I realised I was going to die so I just let go," he says. "It felt really peaceful." Although his emergency chute opened at around 230 metres above the ground, Chris was unable to steer it as he couldn't move. The last thing he remembers is crashing face down into the runway at the DeLand airport, in Florida, America. The student landed safely unharmed. Chris slipped into a coma, waking up five weeks later to learn that he was a quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down, although he has some movement in his hands. One day, he was soaring high in the sky helping people to learn how to sky dive and the next day he was confined to a wheelchair and told by doctors that he would never walk again. The way Chris saw it he should have been left to die. "I had been at the highest point in my life, it would have been better to go," he says. Always looking to push boundaries Chris had worked hard to get to where he was. "I had a lot going for me at that time," says the 39-year-old. Raised in Connecticut, the former Marine was passionate about extreme sports. Rock climbing, jet skiing, kayaking - he'd done it all. "I was into body building for a while," he smiles, without a trace of irony. He was always looking for more ways to push his physical boundaries; that's how he discovered skydiving. So obsessed with the adrenalin-fuelled sport was he that he moved to Florida and cleaned bathrooms at the drop zone to make a living. In his spare time, he paid to go in the wind tunnel at Skyventure, and developed friendships with other divers. That paid off. They were forming a skydiving team and needed a cameraman. Chris volunteered, and quickly became a skydiver, then instructor within months. He was so naturally talented, he turned professional, winning national contests with his team at DeLand. "Life really couldn't have been any better," he says. But after the accident he despaired of ever recovering or being happy again. "I was in hospital for seven months," he says. "I had a tracheostomy so couldn't talk or breathe normally for about four months and it took me about six months before I began to believe that I could do something again." After leaving hospital and returning to his apartment he found life would never be the same. "There wasn't a button to push for a nurse anymore," he says. "I was alone all day while my wife, Nancy, went to work. I began spending all day imagining what my life would be - lonely, dark and feeling helpless." Little by little he convinced himself he did have a future, learning from his past. "I had a very unhappy childhood, coming from a broken home," he says. "I had to literally pull myself out of this deep dark place after I grew up to find some happiness. After the accident I knew why I had been through all that misery in my childhood - it had been to prepare me for what I was to experience after. I just embraced it instead of fighting it." Disability does not hold him back It's this positive thinking that means Chris refuses to be confined by his disability. He has only limited movement in his hands and fingers, but has modified everything he uses to make life easier. For instance, to write he has hooked up a shower curtain ring to his pen so he can put his lifeless fingers into it and write by steering his wrist. The computer and the video cameras he set up in parts of his home are equipped with special handles and the mouse looks like a cratered planet with plaster of Paris stuck on it so he can manoeuvre it easily. He has small tubes stuck together to slip on his finger as well a larger unsharpened pencil to allow him to tap on the keyboard, help him edit the videos and upload them onto YouTube. He does all this with amazing dexterity. He zooms around his home on his motorised wheelchair - seemingly recklessly, but in absolute control. Although he has a helper, he does almost everything by himself and today, Chris when not making videos or busy at work as an administrative officer at Skydive Dubai, is a motivational speaker whose sole purpose, "is to inspire people around the world to live a complete and total life instead of just surviving''. He has given presentations at among others, the Zayed University and Sharjah University. "What I want to do with my life is to inspire every human being I meet, and tell them that no matter what challenges are put before them, to face them, to try," he said at the annual Tedx Dubai conference at the World Trade Centre last year. "If you try, everything is possible." Few epitomise this more than Chris himself. Eighteen months after the accident he decided to stop depending on others to do things for him. It gave him back his independence - and creativity. "At one point I started making music with a keyboard," says Chris. "Slowly I began to find things to do and slowly people started to see that I hadn't given up. The appreciation from others is what keeps me going." He is also grateful that his wife stuck by him. "Without her it wouldn't have been possible for me to recover from my accident.'' But they did split eventually because Chris wanted to progress. "I needed help for everything, I couldn't even eat on my own," he says. "It was difficult for my wife and friend Peter Gavinzer to allow me to do things on my own because it was easier for them to do things for me. Because of that I made a very rash decision and asked them both to move out on the same day. It seemed crazy but something told me it was necessary." They were loath to leave him alone, but Chris is stubbornly independent and they knew it was a lost cause. "When I woke up the next day I felt different," he says. "I had to get into bed alone, which I had never done before. It took me about three hours, and it was very scary and unnerving. But I did it. And I realised that if I can do this I can do anything." That's why he decided to put the video of his accident - captured on his helmet camera - on the internet. "I posted the video mostly for selfish reasons, trying to understand how the accident came about. I thought people who see it would be able to figure it out. "The responses I received were mixed - some took me to task for scaring people away from skydiving while others lauded my bravery for putting the video online." Gradually he began receiving requests from people in wheelchairs asking how he was coping with his condition. "That's when my life started to change," he says. He set up a few cameras in different areas of his home and, "I started to video myself - getting out of bed, doing my daily activities..." He edited the footage on his computer and posted videos almost daily on YouTube. "Many people found the videos inspiring. I received responses such as one from a man who wrote, ‘I was complaining about having to get out of bed to go to work one day and I saw this video of you trying to get out of bed, and that kind of shook me up - comparing my problems with yours.''' It didn't take long for his videos to go viral. "I found that there were many things I was doing which could perhaps make people think differently about themselves. I bought a few cameras and started recording everything." Over the years, Chris has uploaded more than 500 videos, which have been viewed over 2,200,000 times. American Doug Shippee found them to be a lifeline. "Doug broke his neck in an accident in 2006," says Chris. "He found my videos on the internet while he struggled with anger, depression and feeling helpless in his own life. After viewing them, he began trying new things. Today, he says he's living, not just existing." Opening up a world of possibilities Eager for adventure, Chris began looking for a new challenge. "My best friend Peter, who was trying to cheer me up, asked me what I wanted to do ultimately with my life," remembers Chris. "I said I wanted to see the world. On a whim, I googled the word ‘world' and one of the results that turned up was The World islands that were being built in Dubai. The more I read about the place the more I realised that the world's attention was focused on Dubai." Incredibly Peter, who was surfing the net too, turned around and told Chris he should go to Dubai. "Initially it seemed ridiculous because I'd never travelled anywhere in my life. But I felt that this was a place where people, if they wanted to make a difference, had the means to do it. I thought it was a place where maybe I could influence people." More than that was Peter's influence. "The way Peter told me I must go to Dubai was weird," explains Chris. "He was almost forceful. Two weeks later he was dead in a skydiving accident. His words kept eating at me, until one day I decided, ‘I am going to Dubai even if it's only for Peter.'" However, Chris didn't have a clue about how he'd get to Dubai. "I just switched my life in the US off in my mind, and started visualising my life in Dubai," he says simply. "One night I put up a message on my Facebook page, which I don't usually do, that I'd like to be in Dubai in January 10, 2010, for a skydiving competition that was being held there. A couple of days later I received a message from a stranger called Dan Boyle asking me to go to a link provided in the email. It was a website called, sendchristodubai.com - he'd created a webpage for people to donate money to send me here! It turned out that Dan had been watching my videos for two years and it had a big effect on his life. He was trying to give back. Strangely enough, people started donating money. I was amazed." Chris then received a message from a woman named Cheri, another stranger. "But I recognised her husband, Omar Alhegelan, the world-famous skydiver who's based in Dubai," says Chris. "He'd been a skydiving hero for me since the first time I saw him. A few days later Omar messaged me saying, ‘Take down your website and pack your bags, you're coming to Dubai.'" He arrived on January 5 and went straight to Skydive Dubai. "I went flying on an indoor machine called the wind tunnel and it was just amazing!" Even more amazing was that Chris was offered an administrative job there. "Administration officer is my job title, but honestly what I do is bring a different kind of energy to the place," he says. The extent of his spirit can be gauged from the fact that he ‘drove' an off-road vehicle in the desert two months back. He did it by taping a hiking stick to the accelerator and using one of his elbows to push it. "It was an incredible feeling to be able to drive on my own!" he says. "These are the ways I push myself every day, trying to do something I cannot. "When I look back I am happy at the way things worked out. Many people go through life without a goal or ever realising their dream. I did that climbing out of my deep helpless dark hole. So, somehow I feel that I had a great preparation for this life. And I aim to enjoy every bit of it." 

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