Climbing with a disability in Dorset

My disability did NOT stop me becoming an Outdoor Instructor...

Have a disability that you think will stop you from becoming an instructor? Dean explains how he got his dream job working in the great outdoors, whilst managing his disability.

5 minute read...

I’m Dean and I’m an Outdoor Instructor. I've just finished my first season working for Land & Wave. I also have a disability.

I was born nine weeks premature which caused a whole host of problems. As a result, I've had five operations on my stomach, two on my back, two on my knee and I’ve had my colostomy bag all my life. At around nine years old, I underwent surgery to reverse the damage but it was not successful and nearly cost me my life.

My childhood was spent inside hospital waiting rooms and in bed recovering from surgery instead of spending my time outside being a typical kid. As I grew older, the urge to spend as much time outside as I could became stronger.

Why did you become an Outdoor Instructor?

Like many people - I had a job I didn't really enjoy and felt trapped in the same cycle week in and week out. I needed a change.

Whilst at school, I spent a couple of years in the Army Cadet Force. I became a senior cadet instructor and became somewhat of a role model for the younger cadets. This filled me with pride; the feeling I got from teaching and inspiring these young people is what led ultimately to becoming an Outdoor Instructor.

How did you become an Outdoor Instructor?

I started by gaining a little bit of experience at a watersports centre in Liverpool. I helped out on Paddle Boarding sessions which kick-started my journey. The people I met at the centre were great and helped guide me along my path. They suggested that I started taking some courses to gain nationally recognised qualifications. 

So I began my search online, looking at the fastest way to become an Outdoor Instructor and I stumbled upon some fast track courses. I was torn between a few different companies but Land & Wave offered the best package for people with little to no experience. 

Dean Zhai Blog6

Why did you choose the Land & Wave Outdoor Instructor Training Course?

When I discovered the course it had all the qualifications that I wanted and a few more. The kit package was amazing too, we had loads of great gear to keep us warm, dry and comfortable. A big reason for me joining the course was the number of people that had done it before me - that gave me real confidence.

Did you struggle on the course due to your disability?

When doing an full time course like this, there are going to be struggles for everyone but the team at Land & Wave were very, very supportive. 

For me one of the main struggles is when I get into a wetsuit my colostomy bag is compressed. This can occasionally cause it to leak which definitely caused a lot of anxiety.

When climbing, the same issue occurs because the harness often pushes into the stoma which also causes additional pain and discomfort. I would say the hardest part was dealing with my mental health, at the beginning I was constantly worried about my colostomy bag and this impacted my self confidence. 

Dean Zhai Blog3

I am proud and very fortunate that I have now come to terms with having my colostomy bag. This meant I felt comfortable to tell everyone on the course, which was a weight off my shoulders and meant I could just enjoy the course without constantly being asked questions.

Working for Land & Wave and beyond...

After successfully completing the Outdoor Instructor course in February 2018, I was offered a seasonal instructor job through the summer. Land & Wave are excellent because everyone that works for them are genuine, caring people who help each other out.

Unfortunately, at the start of the summer season I was rushed to hospital in the early hours of the morning. My colleagues were really supportive and offered to bring me anything that I needed and when I was discharged I was picked up from hospital and looked after by colleagues for the next couple of days. 

The summer season has been a really excellent experience. Every day is different and exciting. My colostomy bag hasn't had any impact on my job. I have had an occasional accidental leak or stomach ache but every time I have needed to sort something out everyone is supportive.

Dean Zhai Blog1

I’m now a professional coasteering leader, SUP instructor, bushcraft instructor and most importantly a role model for the younger generation (and perhaps even the older generation too).

Dean's adventures continue... Dean was offered a Winter job in the UAE and finished his season early at Land & Wave to pursue a winter of hot sunshine and adventure in the dunes! 

Dean Zhai Blog7

Dean Zhai Blog5

"Dean, we couldn't be more excited for you and the incredible journey you're on... have a brilliant time putting all your newfound skills and confidence to amazing use. We'll miss you buddy!" The Land & Wave team

by Rosie Tanner

Share this article

group booing
Groups
6+ people

Secure your group booking here with £100 deposit

small groups
Small groups
1 - 5 people

Check availability and book an activity for 1-5 people

Group Booking

Pay £100 to secure your dates*

Pay with PayPal
*Subject to availability. We’ll be in touch within 24 hours to confirm your dates