Teen scuba diver plunges into uncharted waters

The ocean can be a source of awe and wonderment for those who dive into its rich and complex depths. […]

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The ocean can be a source of awe and wonderment for those who dive into its rich and complex depths. With the sea in their sights, a group of scuba-certified high school students traveled to Grand Cayman in March under the leadership of Randy Christman’s dive operation, Over EZ Diving. Autumn Paulson, a high school senior at Thomas Jefferson Senior High in Bloomington is among the divers who will make the trip.

Paulson’s decision to join in this ocean expedition is no ordinary spring break trip. She has cerebral palsy. Paulson is unable to walk or speak. The physical manifestations of her cerebral palsy visually distinguish her from the other non-disabled divers. But after several successful pool sessions over the last month, those distinctions essentially dissolved when she descended into the water with her full-face mask, fins, and built-in regulator.

When Paulson first begin scuba diving, the transformation from disability to ability was exciting to see. The necessary full-face mask with a built-in regulator, made by the Italian company Ocean Reef, was provided by Over EZ to accommodate her breathing needs. With the right gear in place, she flourished in the weightless environment that deep water provides.  

Written question and answer with Paulson

Q: Can you explain what your particular disability is? The reason for this question is that there are no doubt other individuals who will read this article and relate to your experiences.

Paulson: I have cerebral palsy, which is practically a brain injury, and something I got from a lack of oxygen at birth. I can’t walk or talk, but that hasn’t stopped me from living a normal life. I thank my parents for not ever treating me like china glass. My mom began traveling with me on airplanes when I was only six months old. On that first visit, I went to visit my uncle out in California. Also, my mom and my Aunt Barb used to take me on lots of road trips when I was an infant and toddler.

Q:What sparked your desire to become a diver?

A: Scott Stenbeck was my astronomy, meteorology, and biology teacher during my junior year of high school, and he approached me with the idea of scuba diving. I was unsure if I wanted to pursue the idea because of personal and psychological issues. But my mom kind of talked me into it, and I’m grateful for that!


Q: Have you thought about what you’d like to accomplish with your diving? Do you have any career aspirations that tie in to diving in some way? Or is diving your outlet for fun and adventure?

A: Well, I’m looking into doing a book on mangroves with Randy Christman, so I hoped to take lots of pictures [underwater] down in Grand Cayman for that. I haven’t thought about career options that link to diving much, but it would be cool to explore the underwater world. I used to want to become a scientist, and I thought this opportunity was a sign/pathway to some sort of scientific career. Now, I just want to become a writer. I write many lyrics, and I started my own book not too long ago.

Q: You seemed to enjoy being in the water; did you experience a different level of mobility in the water?

A:  I haven’t been swimming in so long. I needed to relearn how to swim it seems like. With my wet suit on, I’m planning to get back in my pool this summer and go for more swims like I used to.

Q: Now that you are on the verge of taking a trip to Grand Cayman, do you have any fears or anxieties about diving in the ocean?

A: I’m scared of accidentally pulling my mask off underwater if my arms get uncontrollably excited for some reason.

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