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.