Sympathy for the specially abled is not a bad thing, but it’s even more important to look at someone, say, in a wheelchair, and think that the person is powerful, strong, and deserves all your respect. That is exactly what the trainers and trainees at CLAW aim to do as well — mould perceptions, change rigid mentalities and of course, inspire.

 

 

CLAW (Conquer Land Air Water) was founded by ex-Special Forces commando, Major Vivek Jacob. The idea originated on a hospital bed after an accident in 2015. “During a combat freefall course (tactical skydiving) in Agra, a parachute malfunction injured my spine. While recovering in the hospital, a paralysed Air Force officer was by my side, and we got to talking. when he realised I was a commando, he asked if he could ever learn to scuba dive. I said ‘why not?’. I spent my time researching specially-abled people scuba diving, and I saw that it is very much possible.” This conversation introduced Maj. Jacob to an opportunity of helping a lot more people who were enthused and eager to learn something adventurous. He decided to round up anyone who is willing to help make this a larger operation. From volunteer trainers to generous accommodation and equipment, everyone and anything was welcomed to get this going. During this time, Maj Jacob decided to take a premature retirement after Fourteen years of service, and decided to dedicate his time to the cause. “We are trained killers, or protectors, however you see it. I understand that our job is extremely strategic and important, but I just felt I had grown beyond it. I wanted to see what I could do in creation rather than destruction.”

Eventually, a group of ex-Special Forces veterans joined in as trainers, and CLAW begin to take shape. They conducted workshops where they would offer scuba diving lessons. These workshops were another indicator of the grit and determination of people with disabilities. “We were in Decathlon, informing people about our scuba diving workshop. They were abled people, and let’s say out of 100, maybe 20 people said they are interested, out of which only 10-15 people landed up. We then went to the Chandigarh Spinal Rehab Centre, where there were 26 people with various spinal injuries. After I told them about the workshop, all 26 of them volunteered for the workshop. Everyone was ready, and excited. This 100 per cent response stunned me, and I admired their zeal.”

You could label CLAW a training centre, but its objective and teachings spread far beyond that. Arman Ali, the Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), spent his time training in scuba diving with CLAW. He believes that his time there taught him things beyond just physical training. “I did a scuba diving course, but in the process, I learnt the importance of developing a selfbelief system. We were also shown how teamwork can make everything possible,” says Ali. A trainee at CLAW is assured to learn an adventure sport, but also other self-defence skills, like unarmed hand-to-hand combat. CLAW also plays the role of an unconventional rehab centre because an adventure sport like scuba diving has its health benefits. Recovering from an accident can have serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Being out in the water can help keep that under control. It also helps to emancipate them in some ways. For example, someone who spends most of their time in a wheelchair, does not have to worry about that in the water. They can move how they want, witness a whole other world thriving in the corals, and have complete control over themselves without relying on anyone.

 

 

But the biggest reason why CLAW sets itself apart from other training academies out there, is because of their current goal — Operation Blue Freedom. They take their name very seriously, and are on their way to do exactly what it says — conquer land, air and water. Operation Blue Freedom is CLAW’s mission to create the triple elemental world record, only by a team of people with disabilities. They are currently hard at work, training a team, preparing for the world record where the CLAW team will scuba dive in the Maldives, skydive in Dubai, and scale Everest in Nepal. There are naturally a few challenges, but CLAW’s trainers have noticed the team’s focus and determination. “They are a delight to train because they have got a phenomenal amount of honesty and spirit. You just need to give them an opportunity to showcase that,” says Maj Jacob.

CLAW wants to be a shining example for people with disabilities, with remarkable capabilities. “We want to shatter the stereotype of pity and handouts associated with people with disabilities. Instead, we want to evolve it to one where ability is recognised and awarded,” adds Maj Jacob.