As I look back at turning 30 a couple weeks ago, I find myself reminiscing about so many of the most memorable moments in my life, which, of course, usually involve freediving. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work and dive alongside many freediving greats and to travel to amazing dive locations. From diving with whales in Tonga and breaking national records in Cayman to blacking out, getting squeezed and utterly failing to reach my target depth, every one of these moments taught me something incredibly valuable.
I figured instead of mulling all this over by myself, I’d share with you all. Maybe these experiences will urge you to pursue your own freediving goals and maybe some will be cautionary tales to help you avoid repeating the mistakes I’ve made!
High: Breaking four records in one competition
2011 was an amazing and a terrible year for me in different ways. I trained hard while teaching and traveling with PFI, then headed to Cayman for Deja Blue and crushed the goals I set for myself. I broke four records in a row, eventually settling on 80m in constant weight, a major personal best, making me the deepest woman in the US at the time. I was ecstatic and proud, but what many people didn’t know is that I was very sick during the competition, having recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and continued to get sicker over the next few months. I powered through every competition day, barely able to eat, feeling better only when I was underwater. I told myself that I’d just get through this, then I’d deal with my health problems.
Low: Physically crashing
In September of that same year, I went from the top of my game to having a very severe physical downslide. I lost over 30 lbs, ended up in the hospital unable to eat or walk, in a great deal of pain. But as awful as that was, it ended up having a massive positive impact on my life. After a very long recovery, I learned to appreciate every single thing in my life: being strong enough to walk without fatiguing and eventually being able to go back to the gym, being able to eat without pain and finally getting back to diving and training. I was able to come back less than a year later and break records again. There’s never a day that goes by that I take anything for granted, and while the learning experience itself sucked, in a way I’m grateful to have gone through that and come out the other side stronger. Now I eat cleaner than ever before, go to the gym every day and just appreciate the feeling of being healthy.
High: Diving with Whales in Tonga
The following year I was invited to travel to Tonga with GoPro to film a promotional video for their new (at the time) Hero 3, which turned into this Mavericks film as well as the freediving-focused Whale Fantasia. Not only did I get to dive with humpback whales and travel to exotic locations, but I got to meet the awesome people behind those little cameras. Plus they gave me 1,000 shares of their recent IPO!! Ha, not really. But it was still sweet!
Low: Losing good friend and competitor Nic Mevoli
This was a very low point for a lot of freedivers. Nic came in like a whirlwind a few years ago and hit numbers that most divers wouldn’t believe for a new competitor. He blew past expectations and set big records very quickly. But all that came at a high price for Nic and for those of us who knew him. I won’t linger too much here, but it was awful for the whole community when he died, let alone for his family. It’s still hard to look back at the first days with him in Cayman.
High: Every day that I get to keep doing this thing
When it really comes down to it, freediving isn’t about depth. It’s not about how long you can hold your breath. It’s not about medals or winning competitions. It’s about that feeling you get…when you’re in the water and you just think, “There’s no where else I’d rather be.” It’s that moment where you realize you feel truly happy with that little spot in time. The desk job fades away, the little problems of life fade away and you’re present right then, in the water. And we’re lucky to have that, any time that we do.
Fabien Cousteau once said that with over 95% of the ocean unmapped, we know more about the moon’s surface than we do about the ocean. And maybe that’s true, but maybe the ocean helps us know ourselves just a little bit better.