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Disabled Slovenian diving group dives in Russian Cosmonaut Center

(DiverWire) Damian Peklar is a man who does many things. He has jumped out of airplanes, rides motorcycles, and cuts through ice to dive. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the Slovenian diver spends most of his life in a wheelchair.

Despite the limitations from spinal cord injury, last month Damian and other divers from the International Association for Handicapped Divers Adriatic (IAHD Adriatic) made good on the the opportunity of a lifetime — diving in Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

Located in Star City, Russia (Zvyozdny Gorodok), the GCTC is one of the most unique dive environments in the world, named after Yuri Gagarin, the first human being in space. The GCTC allowed the Suunto-equipped divers into an area where few divers have ever been – it’s the same place that Russian cosmonauts train for operations in the weightlessness of space.

The team spent an hour in the crystal clear water of the hydrolab examining space modules, together with Nikita Vankov, the first Russian wheelchair diver to be certified by CMAS/CRASA. Nikita was trained in his native city, Anapa, on the Black Sea, by Russian instructors of the Foundation for support of the Russian state program “Dostupnaya sreda” (available environment). “It was the dream dive and the fulfillment of a long term dream,” says paradiver Damian Peklar.

“This opportunity was the first of its kind in the world,” adds Slovenian diver Branko Ravnak, principal organizer of the IAHD Adriatic. The indoor dive tank is a massive 5,000 cubic meters in volume, 12 meters in depth, and offers 45 viewing windows. It houses unique sights for scuba divers, including full-size mockups of Russian space station modules.

The team was supplied with a range of Suunto diving instruments, including the Suunto D4i, Suunto D6i, and the Suunto D9tx. Mika Holappa, Director for the Suunto Dive Business Unit, shares excitement for the IAHD Adriatic divers. “The group is so inspiring, and we’re very happy to have supported them in this unique project,” he says.

About IAHD Adriatic
The groundwork for the IAHD Adriatic organization (a member of C.M.A.S. Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquantiques) began when diver Branko Ravnak took a trip to Murter Island, Dalmatia, back in 2002 with the first group of six divers post SCI (Spinal Cord Injury). Among them was also Ales Povse the most decorated disabled diver on the world (he was diving with Bullsharks in Cuba, under the ice …). “We didn’t have any idea how we were going to do it,” recalls Povše, “We just went.” Since then, the goal of IAHD Adriatic has been to teach people who’ve had a spinal cord injury to be entirely and completely independent in the water.

To learn more about the IAHD Adriatic or help support their mission to reveal the thrills of underwater exploration to handicapped divers, visit their website at