An interview with Dmitry Knyazev on amputee diving

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An interview with Dmitry Knyazev on amputee diving

Dmitry Knyazev has been a DDI Instructor and an inspirational member of our organisation since 2016. Since becoming a disabled diving instructor, Dmitry has been on a quest to get as many people with disabilities in the water as possible and has been a true ambassador for disabled diving, especially for divers in Russia. 

In 2015 he created the Open Water Challenge project. The goal of his project is to create motivational stories about how people with disabilities overcome the limits of their reality. As Dmitry was already an avid professional diver, he chose diving as the challenge. Each project participant has their own challenge and purpose for taking part. Dmitry documents the progression and triumphs of his divers through filming and photo galleries.

Working with Different Disabilities

To get people with different disabilities involved, Dmitry turns to social networks.
 I myself am looking for interesting people through social networks and offer them participation in the project. If they agree, then they become co-authors of a new motivating story Dmitry Knyazev (DDI Instructor)
During his journey, Dmitry has worked with numerous disabilities and has extensive knowledge in working with people with disabilities and what adaptive techniques can be applied. Amongst the disabilities Dmitry has worked with, some include; sight impairment, paraplegics and amputee divers.

‘The Little Mermaid’ Project, Elena Chinka

Success Stories

As mentioned earlier, each of the divers have a goal they want to achieve. One of Dmitry’s earlier participants wanted to take an Open Water Diver Course with divers without any health restrictions. His goal was to show that a person with paraplegia can take the Open Water Diver Course in the same time frame as abled bodied divers. And so he did.

For another participant, scuba diving became a means of psychological rehabilitation. After a back injury, the diver lost the ability to walk. Due to the repercussions of dealing and adapting to a new disability, his relationship with his wife broke up, and he needed to find a foothold for himself.  This individuals personal goal was to find a common ground for him and his son, who remained living with his mother. He became an excellent diver and over time, his son also participated in a scuba diving course. Now they are dive buddies. 

It is important to reflect on the physical as well as the psychological effects scuba diving and being part of a team again can have on an individual who is restricted in every day life. Joining groups and clubs can help people with disabilities rediscover themselves, grow a support system and gain confidence and drive. Physically, adaptive sports can make the individual stronger, more agile, and helps them adapt new ways to work with their disability to achieve everyday obstacles.

‘I have a muscular disease, but the muscular disease does not have me’ project, Anneke Van Der Werf

Dmitrii Pavlenko and His Story 

I’m on the lookout all the time. In 2016, I learned about a diver with amputation of the arms and legs. It was Philippe Croizon. I was interested in this topic and I began to look for more examples. I came across the story of Daniel Ennett,  who was trained by Mark Slingo (DDI Board Member) 
These examples inspired me and so I got the idea to train a quadruple amputee diver. I began the search for a man who has a dream about the underwater world, and who is ready to make a challenge. It took six months. (Dmitry Knyazev DDI Instructor)

In Summer 2017, Dmitry met Dmitrii Pavlenko, a quadruple amputee, via facebook and said he was ready to try, and so, they embarked on their journey in Moscow, with Dmitrii’s wife Olga.

About Dmitrii Pavlenko
When Dmitrii Pavlenko was 19 years old, he served compulsory military service in the Russian army (1999). His injury occurred during training exercises where a grenade went off next to him. At the age of 20 he lost his arms and legs. Over time, he graduated from university and became a psychologist rehabilitologist. He met his future wife Olga through correspondence. They have two charming children, a boy and a girl.
The Journey
In June 2017, Dmitrii had his first in water experience, 19 years after his injury, since he was previously convinced all these years that he would drown. After the dive, which was successful, Dmitrii started on his DDI journey, along with his supportive wife Olga.

This is what we can do together. Olga Pavlenko (DDI Assistant Diver)

Dmitry has gained experience on working with couples, in which one family member had a disability. From Olga’s inspirational phrase, Dmitry named the project ‘do not part with your loved ones’. His philosophy was, no-one should wait on the shore, family support is curtail for divers with disabilities.

In the summer of 2017 Dmitrii started by becoming a DDI Scuba Diver, Level 3.  A level 3 diver reflects the amount of assistance that is needed in the water.  Dependent on how much help the disabled diver needs, how they would be in an emergency situation and wether they can assist their buddy, divers with disabilities are given a level. Level 3 meaning that a lot of help is needed. Dmitrii travelled to Hurghada where he continued his education with Dmitry Knyazev and his wife at his side. 
After Dmitry achieved new successes under water, the idea arose to make an independent dive to 40 meters. But for this, training was mandatory.
Dmitrii and the 40m Dive Plan 

The following text is written by Dmitry Knyazev.

I studied the experience of diving Philippe Croizon in the deepest pool of the world Nemo 33 (at that time, 2013).
We have set a more difficult task for ourselves, compared to Philippe’s dive:
  1. Dmitrii will dive to 40 meters – the maximum depth for recreational diving.
  2. The dive will take place in open water.
  3. Dmitrii will do the descent to 40 meters on his own, none of the support team will touch him.
  4. Dmitrii will do an independent ascent from a depth of 40 meters, none of the support team will touch him.
  5. Dmitrii must make a safety stop at 5 meters for 3 minutes on his own.
The rules provided for two Amendments, for special situations:
  1. If there are waves on the surface of the water, then a support diver can help Dmitrii to go down to a depth of 3 – 5 meters, where the waves effects disappear.
    Similarly,  support diver can help Dmitrii ascend from a depth of 3-5 meters after he does a safety stop if there are waves on the surface.
  2. If during a dive under water there will be such a strong current that it will take Dmitrii from the guide line and Dmitrii will not be able to return to the line himself, the support diver can help Dmitrii return to the line.
When we completed the the dive, we had to use Amendment No. 1 (there were waves on the surface), but we did not need to use Amendment No. 2 (Dmitrii himself deal the current that met us at a depth of 20 meters).
To achieve this goal, we trained a lot and made many adaptations to Dmitrii’s equipment, to provide him with maximum independence, while maintaining safety requirements.

Dmitrii Pavlenko diving

Equipment Adaptations 

Below is a list of equipment adaptations that Dmitry used to best support his diver to be as independent as possible underwater. Due to Dmitry’s thorough research and experimentation, Dmitrii Pavlenko is now a Level 2 diver instead of a Level 3, due to his ability to control his equipment through adaptations.

  1. The full-face mask allows him to independently equalise pressure during the descent. 
  2. Small weights fastened to the BCD shoulder straps allow him to steadily hold the trim horizontally when he moving forward.
  3. The Aqualung BCD with the i3 system allows Dmitrii to independently control his buoyancy during a dive. The shorter i3 lever was replaced with a long one (originally a bent spoon!) , which gives Dmitrii the opportunity to control it without fingers.
  4. Special blades, or ‘wings’ mounted on Dmitrii’s upper arm allows him to move forward and effectively control the position of his body from vertical to horizontal and vice versa. 
  5. Dmitrii’s diving suit is made to order, and because of this he can don the suit himself. 
  6. A special harness for a dive computer is mounted onto the suit. This allows Dmitrii to control the readings of the device himself. 
  7. Special underwater signals were developed, this is due to the fact that the usual divers signs use fingers that Dmitrii doesn’t have. 
  8. As well as this, when Dmitrii needs to say something, he can speak in voice  as he wears a full-face mask with coms.
  9. A crotch strap is used for the BCD. This provides him with stability and comfort under water. Due to the fact that BCDs are not designed for someone to use their arms for propulsion, the crotch strap stops the BCD riding up to the shoulders and head. 

Dmitrii’s dive was recorded as a world achievement by EHandicap Records . Here you can view the video from the dive and related information.

I believe that such registration is necessary because the statement of achievement as a world record draws a great deal of public attention to it. This allows you to talk about diving opportunities for people with disabilities to a wider audience. Dmitry Knyazev (DDI Instructor)

Thinking outside the box equipment adaptations

The Y-40

In October 2019, Dmitrii made an independent dive in the deepest pool in the world, the Y-40. Dmitrii is now a DDI Advanced Open Water Diver, Level 2.

Dmitrii during the y-40 dive

(left)Konstantin Ermakov, Dmitry Knyazev, Dmitrii Pavlenko, Olga Bobrova(right)

We are always on the lookout for inspiring stories of triumph and success. If you have a story to tell, please get in contact by emailing [email protected]

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