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General Information - 2007-03-19 — Mike Letch : An Inspiration

2007-03-19 — Mike Letch : An Inspiration

How do you begin to describe a man who, despite being a paraplegic from a motorbike accident 35 years ago, has more get up and go than most people half his age? Truly, an amazing man, with an incredible story. The March meeting of VSAG was privileged to hear his story of resilience, determination and fearless persistence against odds that may well have been too much for a lesser man.

In his early years he fell in love with the ocean and became a keen and accomplished surfer. Over time he, like a lot of us, began to see the ocean as a place of exploration and discovery. Skin diving around Flinders and other locations became his main love along with his passion for speedway motorbikes.

It was this love of motor bikes that led him to England as a professional speedway rider. In 1972 he was involved in a crash that left him in a very bad way in hospital. When he woke up, a grim faced doctor told him he had bad news. Real bad news. Steeling himself for the worst, the Doctor said "..sorry, but, you'll never walk again." Stunned, he replied, "Is that all. Heck, I thought it was going to be that I was going to die, or something awful like that!"

He asked about sporting options and was told to consider either table tennis or archery. As neither of these appealed to his adventurous spirit, he suggested that he would find his own outlets.

On returning to Australia he gained a pilots licence and flew small planes for a bit of fun. At some point a mate suggested he enter a fun run over 5 kms. He decided why not and came stone motherless last. Undaunted he entered another and still came last. His competitive nature was stirring and he through himself into the task of getting fit and started to compete in wheelchair races on a frequent basis. He went on to compete in more than 100 marathons and won far more than his fair share. He was pushing that chair quicker than any of us thought humanly possible.

After many years as a competitive racer he decided one day to retire. The suggestion was put to him to get back in the water and try diving. This is not a man who can say no to a challenge. Needless to say, he learnt to scuba dive and now thinks nothing of swimming 400m offshore from places like Rickett's Point to explore the reefs and ledges that still fascinate him.

When diving from boats he has no trouble getting into the water — usually his buddies just throw him in. He then puts his tank and BC on in the water and using a refined sculling action with his hands just goes diving like the rest of us. When he finishes his dive he gets his buddies to pull him in. Nothing fazes this man.

His love of diving and the freedom it affords the physically handicapped led him to try to teach others to help enrich their lives. He is currently a Divemaster/ Assistant Instructor and has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to help him further his aims.

This has led him to travel to Europe and the Americas to study the different systems and ideas available to teach other disabled and handicapped divers. A common comment from these divers is, "Bugger, back to gravity again.." at the end of a dive. There are currently many thousands of certified disabled divers across the Western world, but only 7 in Australia. I think Mike will soon change that.

He is also involved in programs at the Austin Hospital Spinal unit to help with the rehabilitation of injured patients as they come to grips with their new situation.

Like most truly inspiring people you meet in life Mike Letch is not full of himself. He is quiet, modest, loves a challenge and just gets on with what he feels is right for him and others that he feels he could help. When the next war starts, I want him next to me in the trenches.

Safety in Diving

Published on: 2007-04-19 16:38:22 (2623 reads)

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