Apr 30

Tragedy and Triumph- A Freediving Comeback Story

I thought I was dying. I’d lost over 30 pounds and could barely walk. I was frustrated that my body could fail me so completely after years of training and meticulously healthy eating. And to think, only four months prior I’d broken four national records.

That was September of 2011. A year prior I’d been diagnosed with a fairly painful digestive disorder that not only makes me sick, but also makes me lose inordinate amounts of weight. I pushed through the pain and ignored how weak my body felt in May of that year to reach a new personal best and US National Record of 80m/262 feet, but by the following September I couldn’t even get out of bed on my own. 

After a miserable, morphine-blurred week and a half in the hospital in California I went to Virginia for a couple weeks of recovery with my family. At the time I weighed 100 pounds. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get the weight back. I could barely walk around the house. I didn’t know if I’d ever dive again. I was told that I may never get back to where I was just earlier that year, but I hoped that I’d at least be strong enough to dive recreationally someday.

When I got out of the hospital I made a decision to do everything I could to get my life and my body back to normal. I couldn’t just give up. 

Getting my weight back wasn’t just about eating, though I did a LOT of that too. I knew I had to rebuild all the muscle that atrophied while I laid in a hospital bed day in and day out.

But before I could run (or train at all) I had to walk. So I walked. A lot. I got on the treadmill and walked. I walked my dog. I walked everywhere I could to build up my strength. And eventually I was strong enough to walk faster and faster. Then I could keep up a light jog. Eventually I’d gained about 15 pounds back and was ready to get in the gym.

In an effort to completely target weight gain I focused only on lifting and stopped my cardio routine. I’m pretty sure that the tiny little weights I lifted initially were probably comical looking, but I kept at it until I could do more and more and eventually I got on the scale and it read back my regular weight, 133 pounds. 

To say that I was elated was an understatement. I could keep up with normal life again. And I could go back to the pool and start to become a freediver again. 

I slowly worked back up to my regular training program in the pool and was surprised how quickly everything came back. I worried initially that my rebuilt muscles, which had gone through some atrophy, wouldn’t remember freediving and lactic burn, but soon enough I was doing pyramid swims and open water simulations as though nothing had ever happened.

Now that I’m back in Grand Cayman for Deja Blue III I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m healthy and am able to enjoy freediving in a way I never did before. When things don’t go exactly according to plan during a dive, I just remember that a few months ago I didn’t know if I’d be able to dive again at all. It almost seems silly think about how much I used to stress about a “bad dive” before I got sick, but after everything that happened, there’s no such thing as a “bad dive” for me anymore.

It’s that attitude that I’ve brought to the table here at Deja Blue this year and it’s been amazing. I don’t stress much before a dive, I sleep better and the deep dives I’m doing this year are actually fun. Crazy, right? This is what freediving is supposed to be.

So with the competition itself only a few days away I’m enjoying this new outlook on freediving and hoping that with my renewed appreciation for the sport I’ve loved for years I’ll be able to reach depths I hadn’t imagined possible before. Wish me luck. :)



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  1. Ry

    What an inspiring story for all of us. Thank you for sharing.
    Have a great time in Cayman. Good Luck!!!

  2. admin

    Thank you, Ry! I’ll take all the good luck I can get. :)

  3. Anastasia

    Erin, you are amazing and inspiring!!!
    Good luck!!

  4. Julie Hjelm

    Erin, I felt like I was reading my own story. Had the same thing happen to me about 10 years ago. Gastrointestinal disorder…hospitalized for 30 days….Getting back to normal health, weight and strength was my ultimate challenge. I’m happy you got through it. If you want to talk about it with someone that’s been there too, let me know.
    Cheers buddy xxx

    1. admin

      Thanks for the support, Julie! It’s amazing how many people have shared their similar stories with me since I had this happen. Wish you were here in Cayman with me! I’d love to get in touch soon and catch up. =)


  5. Amy

    Hey Erin, I had no idea what happened to you and very happy to read that you are doing well. I guess we need to keep in touch a little more often. I know it’s been a crazy few years and lots of changes for all of us but, we wish you well and would love to catch up with you again. Take care and have fun in Cayman. Amy

    1. admin

      Hey Amy! I feel the same way when I see pictures of your little one! Say Hi to Pete for me!

  6. Shawna


    You are such an amazing woman. Truly an inspiration to so many people. So happy to call you my friend. :)

  7. admin

    Thanks, Shawna!! I miss you guys a lot. Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

  8. Frank

    Wow. This was right after our 2011 San Diego course? And now you broke national record again? Truly inspiring! Thank you for being a living proof that we can do whatever we set our minds to.

    1. admin

      Thanks, Frank! Yea, this is why I had very little involvement with that course. Luckily it sounds like Jake and the others did great with the course. Maybe I’ll catch you in the water next time

  9. Ricardo

    Erin – did not know you had gotten so sick. Glad to hear you recovered so well. You are tough! And congrats on your new records!

    1. admin

      Thanks, Ricardo!

  10. Diving T-shirts

    Thank you for this inspiring story. Wherever our treasure is, there will also our heart be. Your passion for diving has given you a lot of motivation and strength to endure and succeed. Keep you spirits high!

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