Beatrix “Claire” Paris is a remarkable person. A scientist, a mother, a kundalini yoga practitioner, a tenured professor at the University of Miami, a wife, a mentor and now a 2x national record holder in the sport of freediving. What’s even more remarkable is the unusual path of ascension (or descent as it were) Claire followed into the competitive side of apnea. I first met Claire in October of 2013 on the Lesser Antilles island of Curaçao, where alumni & students of Performance Freediving International had gathered for Deja Blue IV.

Athletes at Deja Blue IV in Curaçao (Luis Arismendi, Claire Paris, Ricardo Paris, Carolina Osuna, Antonio Del Duca and the author)
Athletes at Deja Blue IV in Curaçao (Luis Arismendi, Claire Paris, Ricardo Paris, Carolina Osuna, Antonio Del Duca and the author)

Born to parents of French and Cuban ancestry, Claire has a naturally international flair about her, which is augmented by her tall & charming Venezuelan husband, Ricardo Paris. The fiercely protective mother of two grown children, (with the body of a 25-year old I might add!) had just celebrated her 55th birthday when we were introduced. My initial impressions of the dashing pair were as follows: 1) given their athleticism, sparkly eyes and curiosity I imagined they were much younger than their chronological ages; 2) Claire seemed very soft-spoken, which belied the fire emanating in her belly 3) they made a great team. While it is true that freediving is basically a sport for individuals, what’s even more accurate is to say that the success of an individual is relative to the team they have around them.

The whole “freediving” thing was initially Ricardo’s idea. To surprise his wife for a birthday present he had purchased an intermediate level class they could take together — it seemed like a good idea. But as (bad) luck would have it Claire was having issues equalizing and could not even make it down to the pre-requisite 20 meters. Being her own harshest critic, Claire was none too pleased with what seemed her own physical inability, and not very receptive to the pace of the proctor of the class. She opted out. But the concept of being free and self-sufficient in the water was mesmerizing to Claire, after all she had spent the majority of her prodigious academic career studying connections in the ocean — she was determined to continue and to find her own way.

After more classes, more instructors, and more exotic locations (CuraçaoGrand Cayman, Dominica, and the Bahamas) Claire was managing moderate advances, propelled mostly by her own tenacity. But it was not until she started working with her now good friend and trusted coach Antonio Del Duca, that Paris experienced a significant breakthrough. On the heels of a heartbreaking end to a failed training period in the spring of 2016, Claire needed to re-evaluate her motivation and her approach. Why was she pushing so hard and not getting as far as she wanted? What was the point? Was she too late in the game? Questions of doubt flooded into Claire’s mind but she never gave up. Her sheer determination, coupled with the love & support of her training partner & husband, and the stripped-down, back-to-basics approach curated by her new coach Del Duca, directed Claire to her perfect pace and the grace of a newly found inner-peace.

Claire training at Deans Blue Hole (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Claire training at Deans Blue Hole (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Ippo Zutsu“, (which is Japanese for ‘one step at a time‘) has become Claire’s mantra, and clearly it is working. Through patience and dedication Claire has forged a quiet confidence; one step at a time her technique has vastly improved; one step at a time Dr. Paris has achieved her own personal goals and so much more. Five years into the sport, Claire is an accomplished 70+ meter diver, an invited athlete to Vertical Blue annually, and an ambassador for Oceaner. Adding to her  ‘joie de vivre’ Claire now happily also holds the title of American National Record Holder in the pool discipline of Dynamic (DYN) which she just acquired with a brilliant performance of 184m this past weekend at the South Florida Apnea Challenge 2018.

Partners in the pool and in life (photo by Francesca Koe)
Partners in the pool and partners in life (photo by Francesca Koe)

I have been ardently focused for the past five weeks on achieving a dynamic record,” shared Claire. “Even though I surpassed the 179-meter mark (the previous DYN record Meghan Gillmore set in 2016) on several occasions during training, you can never be sure what will happen on the official day of a competition. When I surfaced from my swim and saw the white cards from both judges I was happy. Then I was overwhelmed with emotions. I felt buoyed up by the intentions I had set that morning. Intentions of appreciation to Natalia Molchanova, who has always been an inspiration to me as an amazing athlete, and a mother of two like me, and who also started her freediving career later in life. Intentions of doing the dive for my daughter Jehane, another fabulous female that I admire. Appreciation for my super supportive husband, who has been by my side at every training session and who carries most of the nervous energy for me. Gratitude for ‘el maestro’ Antonio and all of his sage advice. I thought of all of my loved ones, those recently passed and present. I felt the kindness and care of everyone who has helped me on this journey.”

The realization of a dream (photo by Bill Lamp'l)
The realization of a dream (photo by Bill Lamp’l)

Upon the judges’ dual proclamation of “white card” Claire’s husband Ricardo was over the moon. The owner of Vortex Freediving and co-organizer of the South Florida Apnea Challenge, (along with Grove Scuba) was not just thrilled but somewhat relieved.

A winning combination (photo by Robin F.)
A winning combination. (L to R) Antonio Del Duca, Claire Paris, Ricardo Paris (photo by Robin F.)

My heart-rate was off the charts!” chuckled Ricardo. “Each and every time Claire is attempting a target performance my heart rate increases by a thousand percent. It takes me at least 30 minutes to calm back down. I am simply amazed by Claire; I am so impressed with everything she has accomplished in this life. I’m just lucky she lets me hang-out by her side.”

In a dive time of just over three minutes, Claire Paris had manifested the next step of her journey: a USA record-setting swim of 184m. As for ‘Ippo Zutsu’, the expert of larval transport & marine population connectivity seemed to hint at a new milestone…

I think with some more specific training I might just be able to become the first American woman to reach 200 meters.

Given the positive results of her efforts so far, we think so too.

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