No Fear

by Kathy Wechsler on Mon, 2007-10-01 09:16

Neither ALS nor deep, dark waters can slow down Frank Andrews

A retired engineer, Frank Andrews of Katy, Texas, has never been the type of guy to just sit back and let life pass him by. Always wanting to give scuba diving a try, Andrews, 46, made his first dive 15 years ago. He quickly discovered that exploring the underwater world was in his blood, and he started diving with a group of friends from church.

A harness enables Andrews’ friends to hoist him in and out of the water, and tow ropes help him keep up.

Murky waters

After receiving a diagnosis of ALS in 2002, Andrews was determined to continue the sport, even if he needed to adapt and to accept help from friends.

As Andrews’ disease progressed, he started using a battery-powered underwater scuba scooter with a small propeller to help pull him through the water. In the last two years, though, Andrews, who now uses a power wheelchair, has had a personal dive assistant from the resort tow him through the water with a 10-foot rope.

Eight to 10 of Andrews’ friends usually go with him on the diving trips and assist him with putting on the scuba gear and with transfers. Andrews wears a harness underneath his diving vest so that three or four of his friends can grab the harness straps and hoist him back on the boat.

Underwater adventures

Since his diagnosis, Andrews has made seven scuba diving trips to the Cayman Islands, Bonaire and Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. Each trip consists of 14-18 dives, during which Andrews has the opportunity to see an array of tropical fish, sea turtles, and many other forms of underwater life. The majority of his dives are 50 to 70 feet deep, but Andrews usually does one 120-foot dive per day. When Andrews and friends went to Roatan last May, he had the opportunity to do a shark dive three to four miles offshore. It was a 75-foot dive to the bottom, and divers took along a bucket of dead fish. 

“The sharks start circling, and it’s pretty exciting. There are some big sharks, some eight to 10 feet long, and they’ll pass within arm’s reach of you,” says Andrews. “They’re wild sharks, but they’re kind of used to the divers and know that if they hang around they’ll get a free meal. Once you get used to it, it’s not quite as scary as it sounds.”

Night-diving is one of Andrews’ favorite things to do. Divers swim 50 to 60 feet underwater with lights.

“A lot of people think that’s even more scary than the sharks, swimming around 50 to 60 feet underwater in the dark,” he says. “I’ve just always enjoyed that type of thing.”

Diving with sharks was “pretty exciting,” Andrews says.

Underwater life is even more amazing at night. Andrews recalls seeing huge lobsters, octopi and crabs the size of basketballs.

Andrews is hoping to join his friends this fall on another trip to Roatan.  His breathing has become more difficult, making diving more risky, but he’s searching for additional adaptations that’ll let him continue diving.

For Andrews, the adventures don’t stop at scuba diving.

Thanks to an invention nicknamed The Tank, he can enjoy an occasional paintball outing with his church friends, who helped Andrews design and build the contraption. The Tank is a PVC-pipe frame surrounding his wheelchair, covered with a tarp. The finishing touch is a paintball gun mounted on the front, so that Andrews can shoot while being protected from direct hits.

“I guess my attitude and approach to most everything is that I don’t let much, in terms of my ALS, stand in my way of doing things,” Andrews says.  “We either build something, invent something or adapt something to allow me to participate in just about any activity that somebody comes up with.”

Kathy Wechsler
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