Deptherapy Ambassador, PADI AmbassaDiver and trainee Divemaster Gary Green tells his personal and poetic story of the day he accompanied Colin Clements on his last dive.
The cold metal of the bolt on my shed stung my bare skin as I pulled it from the lock. My knuckles turned white as I pulled the stubborn bolt free. Inside my shed my diving gear was stowed away, protected from the elements. I sorted through the various tools that I would not need: the diving knife, the boots for my dry suit and the Halo dive torch presented to me by John Womack, all placed back in their housing.
My Apeks regulators, fins and BCD were placed inside my travel pack. The temperature must have been below 0 degrees as I filled my car boot in the early morning frost. The remnants of the previous weeks snow had mostly been washed away by the rain; pieces of ice were still present on my driveway. It occurred to me how quickly things could change… A week ago my car was completely snowed in. I started the car to free the wind shield from the condensation smothering the glass and I looked down at my legs. I may have made a mistake wearing the shorts I was going to dive in! The hairs on the bare skin stood up as if saluting the cold air as the engine ticked over, forcing cold air through the vents. I held my body waiting for the cold air to turn warm.
Cars rushed around me; a light rain bashed against the window, wipers swiped left and right giving a second of clear sight until raindrop reinforcements replaced them. Then swipe, swipe again and the droplets were smashed away and forced off the car. The cars in front whip up dirty water from the road, trailing their movement and creating a slipstream of mist behind them.
I was in no rush, I wasn’t going to be involved in a car accident. What would be the point? The man I was on my way to meet knows just how quickly things can change. I was not going to waste whatever life I have been granted by rushing on a rain-filled road. The man, Colin Clements, has brain cancer. Not long ago, he was healthy and he spent around 600 hours underwater diving, clearing the Thailand Sea from plastics and fishing wire. Then, just as quickly as the snow had disappeared, so too did his health.
Just this information and realisation forced me to see my own mortality, as my car hit a patch of water, snatching the traction from my wheels. I realised it is not me that is in control. Nothing is a given, life is fragile. So as I watched cars speed past me, I couldn’t help question their decision. It would only take a second for everything to change. I slowed down and decided that anything that was in my control, I would take. I was not going to crash on the motorway for being ignorant; Colin’s story had taught me that my mission that day was more important.
Colin Clements’ brain cancer means that he will soon not be a part of this world. In the face of his own mortality, he sought not a selfish idea or one of self-loathing. Instead, he saw a selfless opportunity, to pass on his gift to those less fortunate.
Deptherapy is a charity that seeks to rehabilitate mentally and physically injured veterans through scuba diving. Colin decided that, in the face of his death, in face of the cursed word that is cancer, not to cower in self-pity but instead to donate his scuba diving gear to the charity. He wanted to do this so that in his death, his scuba diving spirit would live on inside a soldier that needed therapy. Colin had one, final wish – that he could experience the magic of scuba diving one more time. He wanted to do this with a wounded soldier, kindred spirits that both know what it’s like to live with death lingering over them. Someone that knew that death could not follow them beneath the surface.
I drove through the rain, feeling every slippery patch of the road, the whole time trying to imagine what Colin must be thinking. I could not quite comprehend how he had come to the conclusion of charity in the face of death. I have faced death; I have diced with death for my brothers in arms, as we stood side by side in battle. I understand this brotherhood, that some things are more important than death. The only conclusion I could come to is that Colin must too share this brotherhood. Although Colin and I had never met, I knew his spirit; I knew that he must be a man of great heart.
I pulled up at Eagle House swimming pool in Sandhurst. A car was waiting at the entrance and we were greeted by Colin’s carer, Daphne, who told us that he had only just been told that he was going to be diving with us. Up until that point, Colin thought that he was just coming to meet us. Apparently he was so excited that he needed time to calm down.
Inside the pool house, I put Colin’s kit together. I am a trainee Divemaster and as such, I had the honour and responsibility of leading the dive and taking care of Colin inside the water. Chris Ganley was with me, a fellow Rifleman and Deptherapy Programme Member. Chris served two tours in Afghanistan but when he got home he was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident. He lost his left arm and was basically rebuilt from the waist up.
Together we stood in meeting; a veteran with one arm, a veteran blind in one eye with PTSD, and a man who was about to die from brain cancer. Three men from different parts of the country uniting for scuba. Colin spoke beautifully about scuba diving; his words were often forgotten and he struggled to remember certain things but his enthusiasm for the water was unmistakable.
I helped him into the water, I checked his kit and I weighted him for a buoyancy check. I spat in my mask, I looked him in the eyes and they twinkled back at me, his eagerness to feel the water close his head was screaming at me through his smile. As we went under the surface I kept close to Colin. I was worried that because of his condition he might forget to breathe or might panic.
“The complete opposite happened; he was so at home. I believe that if he could live underwater then he would live forever.”
We posed for underwater photos, some with the Deptherapy banner, and Colin was completely coherent and helped hold the banner in place whilst Stuart Green worked his magic with the camera. After about fifteen minutes Colin became tired and we headed to the shallow end and popped out of the water. The smile on Colin’s face was unbelievable, like a new life had sparked inside him, if only that was the case…
I took his kit and I helped him out the water. The dive was cut short but the fifteen minutes was enough and Colin’s wish of one, last dive was completed. Gratitude was showered upon us by his family and by him; I didn’t understand why because it was I who was grateful for his gesture. Chris Ganley and myself had just done what in our eyes was the right thing to do; it was nothing special, just the recognition of someone that shared that brotherhood spirit, someone who knew that some things are more important than death.
The dive with Colin not only reminded me of how important life was, that things can change as quickly as the weather, but also a life affirmation. I am here now. I am alive. If a man can be so generous in death, then surely a man who is still alive can do so much more?
Colin has touched many people. He has taught me that life is precious and that there are good people in this world. His kit will go on a soldier who is in a dark place; hopefully, that person will come out of the water not only wearing Colin’s dive gear, but also wearing his smile…