Nicolas Coster's noble gesture

 By Isabelle Caron, TÚlÚ 7 Jours, 1991

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Half an hour was almost needed to dress Vic in a wetsuit and to install on him the compressed air bottle. Vic smiles by looking at the blue waters of the brightened Pacific Ocean off the coast of Anacapa, one of the Channel Islands, close to Santa Barbara! He is 18 years old and, following a motorcycle accident, his legs are paralyzed and he can move only in a wheelchair. Nicolas Coster invited him this Saturday, with seven other disabled persons, to discover scuba diving. The patriarch of the Lockridge family, in Santa Barbara, has an unselfish passion: "To discover sea beds is for me one of the wonders of the world. I wanted that these men and these women, often very young, to also make the most of it." We are on his boat which he named "Encore", as a reference to his friends and to his French admirers: "They ask me ceaselessly to continue to play in Santa Barbara. I receive so many letters of your country."

Vic is now ready to plunge. Nicolas harnesses him solidly and, with two other divers, carries him up to the ladder, to make him come down in the water, without dropping him: "In the water, every handicap is reduced to its minimum. All the doctors, the specialists know it..." Vic approves: "It seems to me that I am normal again. I can even, sometimes, better manage myself than some of my friends who are not disabled..."

The other disabled guests of this excursion speak the same way. Brandon, who is just 18 years old: "To dive is a mental exercise as much as physical. Under the water, I totally feel safe. I trust myself, my physical abilities. I am also totally trustful in those who surround me, and especially with Nicolas. He restored to me faith in life."

Michael, a person with motor disability since birth, also considers Nicolas Coster as a benefactor: "He gives me an incredible sensation of freedom. Besides, I can engage myself in this activity with my friends, and my wife, without having the feeling of being for them a brake or a dead weight..." When he hears these words, Nicolas is the happiest man: "I have to share with them the privileges that life gave me. Look at Manda, a tetraplegic girl who has just gotten back with me. She told me that she had seen seals for the first time, that it was a grandly beautiful show. She would already like to go back to it. I felt bad telling her that I was tired and that I needed to stay here."

All the diabled persons Nicolas Coster welcomes attend the same class as these other pupils and at the end of the training course he gives them three official diplomas. "I have myself all the necessary certificates. If I had not been an actor, I would have dedicated myself to scuba diving. I look forward to my son, Ian Russel, a.k.a. Willy, slipping on his first wetsuit. He will be 1 year old in July. Unless, as his mother, my wife, Beth, says, he is afraid of water !"

It is not the case of Nicolas' both oldest daughters: "They are 23 and 21 years old. They like to accompany me at sea, but I admit that these family meetings come a little late. I did not know, maybe because I was too much occupied, also too young, to make the most of their childhood. I did not play enough with them, did not share their first laughter, listen to their first words. They are not mad at me because we are very close."

As he is very close to Denise Dowd, a physiotherapist specialized in the care to disabled persons: "When I met her and when she spoke to me about them, I understood that I had to help them. I attended an instructor class in 1985, then I improved myself, to better know how to take care of disabled persons who wanted to learn about scuba diving. Denise helped me a lot and now, we have too many candidates. Santa Barbara leaves me too little time to organize these excursions at sea, but I adore shooting this show and I do not complain about it." Nor do his many admirers.

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