In 2005, Faisal Al Mosawi’s life changed forever. A promising footballer for Kuwaiti’s Al Salmiya Club, then 20, he was involved in a car accident that left his back broken and his dreams of becoming a professional athlete in tatters.
Since then, Al Mosawi has dedicated his life to showing that physical injuries should not be a barrier to incredible achievements. After first coming to terms with spending his life in a wheelchair, Al Mosawi then turned his attention to overcoming a childhood phobia of the ocean.
Quite literally throwing himself in at the deep end, Al Mosawi gained a series of PADI qualifications, becoming an accomplished scuba diver.
“It is strange because as a child I was always interested in coral and marine life, but, also, I was afraid of the sea — of being in the water,” Al Mosawi recalls.
“Things changed for me after the accident. I felt like I had nothing to lose so I started diving in Kuwait. There was no specific training for handicapped people and when I started the first lesson, the instructors said I could do everything but that I would need more effort than others.
“When I am sitting in my wheelchair I feel like a bird in a cage. When I go underwater I feel free. It is like the cage door has opened and I can fly.”
Al Mosawi completed a bucket-list trip in 2013 around the world’s best dive sites, including the Simian Islands in Thailand and the storied SS Thistelgorm shipwreck in the Red Sea. It was a cathartic experience but the best was yet to come.
“When I finished all the trips I decided I needed something more. I wanted to feel normal — like my brothers and my friends. I felt I needed to break a Guinness World Record to show the world that I may be in a wheelchair, but I could still do what normal people could do.”
Al Mosawi embarked on an intense training regimen as he sought to become the fastest person to scuba dive a distance of 10km. The record he was chasing of six hours and 21 minutes had been held since 2011 by able-bodied Irishman Christopher Healy.
“The Guinness office told me there was no special record for handicapped people so I just had to break the record outright. I trained for six months — diving and swimming up to three hours, then five hours and then pushing myself to dive continuously for six to seven hours.”
On August 28, 2018, came Al Mosawi’s moment of reckoning back in the Red Sea, a seascape he had taken in a little more leisurely on his previous visit. Five hours and 24 minutes later, he emerged having beaten the world record by almost one hour.
His dive was a remarkable feat of human endurance.
“It is difficult for people to understand how to do something like this,” Al Mosawi explains. “I could only use my hands and I had to drink water under the sea and eat banana under the sea.
“Like a Formula One driver I had pitstops with my team changing the tanks under the sea. We got through 26 tanks of oxygen. After four hours I felt like I couldn’t go on but the team was telling me not to stop, to continue.
“All I saw was that I must be the fastest man to swim 10km underwater. I needed more effort and gave myself two options: finish or finish.
“When they told me I didn’t just break the record, I smashed it, it was the most beautiful moment in my life. I think I was crying under the water and I thought back again to the accident. Even now I still don’t believe I beat the record.”
Al Mosawi’s diving endeavors understandably captured the attention of the world’s media, with outlets from across the globe clamoring for interviews.
The projects came thick and fast afterwards, with the Kuwaiti opening an eponymous rehabilitation center — among the biggest in Kuwait — and a children’s autism facility, as well as releasing a book and becoming a motivational speaker.
It is now three years since his Red Sea dive and Al Faisal has his sights set on more records.
“I still love telling my story and I’ve been to Mumbai and Manila to speak about it,” he says.
“Now I’m preparing myself for something that will highlight the capabilities of people with disabilities and hopefully bring attention to the marine environment too — something we all have a great responsibility to protect.
“Mainly, I want the world to know that people with disabilities can do amazing things.”
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.