DUBAI // After a rock-climbing accident left Fraser Bathgate paralysed from the waist down, a doctor told him he was out of his mind for wanting to try scuba diving.
"Are you really trying to kill yourself?" the doctor asked in 1992 when Mr Bathgate, who was confined to a wheelchair, sought a medical waiver to begin basic underwater training.
And yet he took to the water where the experience, he says, was like "being given a new life".
"I was able to do so much more underwater than I could do on land," Mr Bathgate says. "It was the most amazing thing to be given freedom again and not being confined to the restrictions of a wheelchair."
Now 49, he is a diving instructor who is about to receive one of the highest accolades the sport has to offer.
Already a recipient of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (Padi) lifetime achievement award, Mr Bathgate, of Scotland, will be recognised by the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association at a ceremony in Florida next month.
He was a rock-climbing instructor before falling off a wall at the age of 23, but scuba diving offered him a new opportunity and the same buzz that rock climbing once did.
Two years after his first dive Mr Bathgate qualified as a scuba instructor, becoming the world's first physically challenged person to do so.
Achieving this, he says, would not have been possible without the support of Paul and Sarah Algate of Scuba International in Dubai, where he later worked but which has since closed.
Becoming an instructor also required six months of training during which he developed a swimming technique powerful enough to propel him quickly underwater, whereby he rotates his hips and shoulders instead of kicking with his feet.
The physical challenges of becoming an instructor were coupled with psychological ones. When Mr Bathgate's students saw him in a wheelchair they were with sceptical.
"It used to be very funny to watch the reactions of people," he says. "In the classroom, you could see their faces. 'How the hell is he going to teach me anything?' Their mindset changed once we got into the water."
Just living in Dubai in the 1990s provided its own share of challenges for a person in a wheelchair, Mr Bathgate says.
"When I lived here, if there was a ramp at a hotel it was for the luggage porter, not for a wheelchair," he says.
"On Faheidi Street, people used to stop and stare because there were no other people in wheelchairs. I became very self-conscious of where I went."
On the plus side, diving spots off the coast of Dubai and in Khor Fakkan and Fujairah were relatively unspoilt.
On the east coast particularly, diving sites such as Shark Island, Martini Rock and Anemone Gardens were teeming with beautiful coral reefs and fish, sharks and turtles.
"You could spend the majority of your dive in two metres of water and not have to move," Mr Bathgate says.
"The colours were phenomenal and as an introduction to diving, it was one of the best things ever."
After leaving Dubai in 1995, he embarked on a career that led to travel all over Europe, the Far East, Australia and the US.
Mr Bathgate is the co-founder of the Deptherapy Foundation, which introduces wounded war veterans in the US and UK to scuba diving.
He has conducted motivational workshops at hospitals that treat spinal injuries, and surveys major sporting events and concerts such as Live 8, ensuring they are accessible to disabled people.
He has modified diving gear to cater for disabled divers, and has even been a consultant for Nasa on the design for astronauts' suits.
This week Mr Bathgate returned to Dubai where he yesterday started a two-day course for diving instructors who wish to teach those with disabilities, at the Pavilion Dive Centre at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
"I have always wanted to come back and finish what I started," he says. "When I first tried to do it here there was a lot of resistance in a way and it was very difficult to access people with disabilities."
Mr Bathgate says there is now more awareness of the needs of disabled people in Dubai, but he adds more work needs to be done.
Scuba diving can be a way to raise the self-esteem of people with disabilities, he says.
"The more instructors you have on the ground, the better the chance of having people with disabilities in the water," Mr Bathgate says.