When Jessica Pita’s story about beating the odds and achieving her goals is written, each chapter will be like a song that will make your heart soar.
The visually-impaired Alphen Park resident continues to inspire many, and there is no sign of her slowing down.
A motivational speaker and podcaster, Jessica rang in the New Year with another fantastic achievement when she became SA’s first legally blind Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) adaptive scuba diver.
She was bestowed this honour after taking her first dive in the depths of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique in November, following sessions of training with Reef Divers at Water Orphans swimming school in Centurion.
The 20-year-old never thought of taking up scuba diving until she got wind of PADI through her mom’s friend in June. PADI was doing an adaptive scuba diving course to include more people living with disabilities in the scuba diving community.
After doing the course with the Reef Divers, PADI’s advisor of adaptive techniques, Fraser Bathgate, the world’s first scuba diving instructor with a disability, organised the trip to Mozambique, where Jessica acquired her qualification.
She said it was an amazing experience, adding that when they reached the bottom of the ocean, it was “insane” because there were crackling sounds, and she could hear “everything living down there was alive”.
“I had never really thought about doing it because it’s known as a visual activity, but when I was at the bottom of the ocean, it made me a new person,” she said.
The St Dominic’s Catholic School for Girls alumna explained that for adaptive scuba diving, there are different techniques depending on your disability, and due to her condition, she and her buddy diver, Peter Herbst, communicated through tactile hand signals.
“We were interlinked with our hands. We had our signals. It was all based on tactile hand signals. For example, we had a hand signal for each species of fish. He’d squeeze my hand, and I would squeeze his back,” Jessica said.
“Being down there as a person with a disability gave me a sense of independence because you can’t get much help. It felt like I was taking control and didn’t need all the help. You gain a new power over yourself.”
A long-time animal lover, she began riding horses after a holiday in 2022 on the wildlife reserve Horizon Horseback Adventures, where one of the activities on the itinerary included horseback riding.
“I fell in love with horses after that,” she said.
She joined Fifth Avenue Equestrian at Norton’s Home Estates and has been on top of her game ever since.
“I’ve taken everything I’ve done and turned it into a way I can work it independently without having to change too much that I don’t get the full joy out of it.”
In seeking to break barriers, she said she doesn’t want her disability to define her, adding that people need to be correctly educated about disabilities to end the stigma against people living with them.
“Accept what you were given and turn it into a positive. Only you can define what you are capable of. Nobody can tell you differently. If you have the idea, belief and dream, you will succeed. Take the first step and try.”
Her mom, Paula, praised Jessica for her resolve, stating it hasn’t always been easy, but she was encouraged by her daughter’s fighting spirit.
“She’s proven us wrong. She motivates us and shows she doesn’t give up. She sees something she wants to try and goes and tries it, and we support her.”
If companies, schools or organisations want to get hold of Jessica for motivational speaking, contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website on www.flyingblindsa.com