Pauline Aughe, a 38-year-old Pahoa resident who was born a quadriplegic, said she’s always been one to test the limits.
“I’ve always liked to push the envelope,” she said. “Any time you cross the line of the unknown and are faced with a little bit of fear or a lot of fear and you can accomplish something, it’s another step of empowerment and it’s like ‘OK. Now what can I do?’ ”
Learning to scuba dive was an accomplishment she never dreamed of pursuing.
“There’s just some things you’re never going to be able to experience, and in order not to be upset or depressed, you don’t focus on those things,” she said.
Aughe’s focus shifted when Hilo Ocean Adventure owner Kevin Cornwell approached her at a food court one afternoon.
“I was sitting in the food court and a gentleman came up and asked if he could talk to me,” she said. “He proceeded to ask if I’d be interested in scuba diving. It wasn’t on my radar of possibilities.”
“It’s something she’d never done in her life,” Cornwell recalled. “It’s like someone coming up to you saying the shuttle is taking off tomorrow, you want to come aboard?”
At the time of the proposition Cornwell had instructed only able-bodied divers and had to receive specialized training from a Handicap Scuba Association instructor in order to properly train Aughe.
Aughe said she prepared for the dive by swimming with a friend at the Pahoa pool until the two would meet Nov. 15 at her neighbors’ home in Paradise Park for her first-ever scuba diving lesson.
The training started with a written test followed by what Aughe described as a challenging skills test underwater.
“First thing that Kevin did is explain that we couldn’t talk under water and to blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. Communication could only go one way, and that’s very different than what other scuba divers go through,” she said.
Aughe said at one point during the skills test, she “completely panicked.”
“Everything was so counter-intuitive to what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s just so unnatural,” she said. “Logic goes completely out the window. I panicked and he brought me up to the surface. My nose stuffed up all of a sudden. Wires crossed in my brain and I had to think about it again. I’m very lucky. I get to appreciate a lot of different things and have a lot of gratitude for what I can do and try not to take things for granted, and at that moment, I realized I took breathing for granted.”
“She put her entire life and well-being in my hands; it scared us both,” Cornwell said about the emotional moment.
But after Aughe took a deep breath and looked around, she became determined to finish what they started.
“All these people have come together at this point to help me experience this and if it doesn’t happen it’s all on me and I felt very angry at myself for not getting it,” she said.
Putting her fears aside, she gave Cornwell and his team the go ahead.
“I said ‘No. No, I’m not giving up. I’m not doing that. I’m not giving up,’” she said.
“I asked if she wanted to stop and she said, ‘No. I want to do this,’ ” Cornwell said. “And she did!”
After making it through the underwater skills test, Aughe said she felt “unbelievably peaceful.”
“It’s really hard to articulate to someone. You have to be completely present, which is a gift scuba diving gives us,” she said. “In our daily lives, we’re doing things and are always bombarded with information and thinking and reacting and when you scuba dive, you have to be completely present in the moment.”
Aughe conquered the pool and has plans to go on a tour dive in the ocean once she gets clearance from her doctor. In the meantime, Cornwell is working on advancing his handicap scuba training certification, which will allow him to certify first-time handicap divers.
“This is the start of what we expect to be a long-term thing. This is a chance to offer veterans and handicaps in our communities a chance to scuba dive and to give them what they already own,” he said. “This is our island, the ocean belongs to us, the people. And for people who can’t access it for whatever reason, let’s fix that and get that right.”
Currently, Hilo Ocean Adventures has the only disabled scuba program on the East Side of the island.
Aughe encourages everyone, handicapped and otherwise, to attempt the daring task, as well.
“You don’t have to sit out and watch people experience Hawaii. You can experience Hawaii,” she said.
For more information about Hilo Ocean Adventures, call Kevin Cornwell at 934-8344.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org.