By Ashley Twichell of Open Water Source
MISSION VIEJO, California, February 21. THE room fell silent as Craig Dietz, a man born with no arms or legs, maneuvered himself from his wheelchair onto a table four feet high, with no help, while giving a speech in South Africa. One thing is quickly apparently to all those present: he truly embodies his own personal life mantra, which is “define your own potential”.
With no limbs, Dietz navigated through childhood and school like everyone else. Even without prosthetics, he was in a bowling league as a child, hunted with his family on a regular basis, and graduated with honors from high school. After Duquesne University, where he was on freshman orientation staff, in campus ministry, and a fraternity, he went on to law school, and became a city attorney.
But Dietz described his remarkable life in a humble, determined tone. For him, life without arms and legs is a given. He expects no applause or special treatment for his accomplishments. In fact, he does not consider his personal challenges to be “any more difficult than what everyone else is facing”. He believes we all face two options in life: let circumstances control us, or control our own circumstances. It is clear he has chosen the latter.
His determined, optimistic and motivated attitude is beyond description. His mindset is what led him to begin pursuing open water swimming. His first open water swim came in the way of being a part of a triathlon relay team. He states that from that moment on, he was hooked. Like so many swimmers, the adrenaline rush that results from open water swims proved to be addicting.
Dietz's longest swim to date has been the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. This 4.4 mile swim has strong currents, and would be extremely difficult for most able-bodied people to complete. However, on his second attempt of the GCBS (his first attempt was cut short by a storm), he crossed the finish line proudly, in a very respectable time. Dietz's method of swimming is, as one would expect, unique.
Without arms to pull with or legs to kick with, Dietz straps one fin on, and then essentially undulates through the water. The speed and fluidity with which he moves through the water is truly remarkable.
Dietz ends his speech by stating his belief that opportunity is always at work in our lives, “even in the midst of pain, suffering and stress”. Furthermore, perhaps the difficulties we face are just fate asking us to look at things from a different perspective.
As Dietz concluded, mostly everyone in the room left shaking their heads in amazement and admiration. The open water swimming community is lucky to have such an extraordinary person as an advocate of the sport.