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Lake Villa teen is handicapable out of water, and truly amazing in it

Spinbifidmakes it tough for Evelyn Felipez walk but sophomore Lakes High School is amazing when water scubdiving. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

Spina bifida makes it tough for Evelyn Felipez to walk, but the sophomore at Lakes High School is amazing when in the water scuba diving. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

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Updated: January 10, 2014 2:18AM

Spina bifida makes it hard for Evelyn Felipez to get around. She needs forearm crutches to walk.

But once the 16-year-old from Lake Villa gets into the water, there are no limits.

“I’m so restricted walking on land,” she said, “but with scuba diving, I feel free. There’s nothing that can stop me.”

Evelyn and her family held a fundraiser for the Diveheart Foundation of Downers Grove over the weekend at N&T‘s in downtown Zion. It’s a family restaurant that is owned by her grandparents.

Diveheart provides scuba-diving opportunities for children, adults and veterans with disabilities, and the Felipez family wanted to support the Foundation because that’s the organization that got Evelyn certified for scuba diving. That led to her swimming with barracudas and nurse sharks in Florida, and freshwater diving closer to home at Haig Quarry in Kankakee.

Siri Felipez, Evelyn’s mother, said she took her daughter horseback riding, and a member of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago said Evelyn would be a good candidate for scuba diving. “She inspired me, so now I’m training (to dive),” she said. Siri’s parents own the Zion restaurant where the fundraiser was held and they will be cooking for a Luao this coming Saturday at the Downers Grove American Legion to benefit Diveheart.

Evelyn said they started training in a downtown Chicago hotel pool and the first problem was the equipment. “I’m kind of small and all the equipment was big,” she said. Snorkeling doesn’t hold the same appeal, “I can do that, but I’d rather not.”

“I’m always up for something that people think I can’t do. I can prove then wrong because I’m a certified scuba diver,” said Evelyn. “As soon as I had a couple of lessons, I knew what I was doing. It got easier and easier for me,” she said.

Swimming for the first time in the ocean in Key Largo, Fla., was nothing like the pool, which didn’t scare her because it wasn’t that deep. “It was a lot different because it was the ocean, but there was a lot of nature to see,” said the Lakes High School sophomore, who identified fish from the movie “Finding Nemo” while in Florida.

“I saw a couple of barracuda; they are so cool. I also saw a nurse shark and I touched it,” she said. Evelyn also swam in the aquarium in Atlanta with whale sharks and a number of Rays. Besides scuba diving, she also likes track — she competes in the 100 and 200 meter events in a racing wheelchair — and this year, she finally joined choir after a number of her friends kept telling her she should because she breaks out into song all the time (and almost on cue, she suddenly started singing a One Republic song called “Counting Stars”).

“I’ve been singing for awhile, ever since I was 5 or 6 years old,” she said. She also plays the violin, but hasn’t had much time for that lately. “I want to find the time,” she said. Evelyn said she learned a simple truth from getting certified in scuba diving.

“It showed me that I could do what I put my mind to,” she said.

She seems to do a lot of that.

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