How do you deal with the death of someone as iconic as Stephen Keenan?

He’s been in my head for the last 24 hours. He’s been called ‘the heart of freediving’, and in many ways, he was. He first showed how much heart he had when he rescued a diver from 40m after hanging for a while at 30m – still the deepest rescue ever recorded. He was our best safety, and soon became the heart (and chief) of many safety teams. Going through the photos I have of him, where he’s more often than not being typically essential in the background, he was more than that, though: also a brain, some strong legs, sharp eyes, capable hands, and a liver.

Allow me to explain in the shape of this selection of photos…

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

The deepest safety dive, the one where he first showed how much heart he had: waiting at 30, then darting to 40 to pick up an athlete in trouble. Not many could have pulled that off. He did and went right back to work the rest of the day.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

The heart of the team. Both as head of safety and as platform manager, he leads by example, and people loved working with him

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Briefing his team. Stephen was a trained biologist and a clever man. He used his analytical skills, and his vast knowledge of freediving and freedivers, to go over the day’s diving with the team, pointing out potential danger dives. He’d give new safeties a chance to grow, and all that worked with him came out better safety divers.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Delegating tasks. One of the beautiful things about him that even when he was not needed in the water, he’d swim over to see how things were going, and watch some of the performances.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Part of the reason he was such a good safety was that he was an athlete himself, too, holding national records in most disciplines.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Naturally flexible, he had a strong monofin stroke.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Ok, so maybe that was a bit of bendy knee there sometime

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

and yes, his no fins was, well, appalling

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

truly appalling – I don’t know how he did more than 100m Dynamic No Fins (DNF) and deeper than 50m Constant Weight No Fins (CNF) this way. Again, all heart.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

and some of his moves during some safety dive could be, well, inexplicable, as well

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

But most of the time, he was as graceful as the element he worked in

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

for example, he looked fabulous in a dress

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

and he was amazing at taking the piss when the moment was there. His ‘battles’ with Johnny Sunnex might have been the epitome of this

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

or maybe it was the egging -started by Johnny on Stephen’s unsuspecting head, perpetrated yearly by the man himself

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

he took devious delight in planning these eggings on birthdays – here Saya is the girl of honor

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Outside of work, he didn’t take things too seriously.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

them stubby legs were strong enough to take the weight of the job and still do a bit of a jig -especially after a pint or two. His liver was legendary; after one party, we literally had to use the windscreen wipers to get him off our car, as he’d spread himself on the car to stop us from going.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

but the next day, he’d help with the clean up (and maybe apologize for chairs that might have been thrown)

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

but before a comp, he wouldn’t drink and would be ready and serious

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

he always made sure he was ready to do that big safety dive

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

he had that uncanny ability to intervene at the right moment – it’s very tricky not to act when you see an athlete struggling, but during a comp, they have to disqualify themselves

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

He inspired confidence in the rest of the team

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

and athletes always knew they were in good hands with Stephen

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

he kept an eye on you till he knew you were alright

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

from start to finish

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

so you always rooted for him to do well on his own comp dives

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

maybe also because he was there rooting for so so many on their dives. Here is with Jeanine Grasmeijer, celebrating her world record

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Here, celebrating with Anna Von Boetticher

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

celebrating Hanako Hirose’s world record

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

applauding Stefan Randig

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with his friend and business partner, Miguel Lozano

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Homar Leuci

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Luke Maillis

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Camila Jaber

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Kate Middleton

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Michael Board

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Aolin Wang

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Tomoka Fukuda

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

with Alessia Zecchini after her world record

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

often these celebrations would culminate into the famous Keenan-from-behind-hug

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Misuzu Okamoto was the recipient of one

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

as was Ryuzo Shinomiya

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

and Hanako Hirose

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

the one with Dean Chaouche might have resulted in offspring

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

so yes, our best safety diver, the heart of freediving, probably its liver as well. The capable hands in which everyone felt safe. His wit, his stories. That walk that was always on the verge of a trot. His ‘bru’ and ‘fecker’. His dubs. All of it gone.

Stephen Keenan - In Memoriam (Photo by Daan Verhoeven)

I’m afraid I never quite did him justice in photos, never quite captured him. Maybe he was too complex, maybe I’m not good enough a photographer. I certainly didn’t get to spend enough time with him – none of us have, I suspect. But I keep seeing those eyes of his, sharp and gentle, clever and shy, hungry for knowledge and usually thirsty for a pint. There was a touch of the Steve McQueen about him. I can’t really imagine our community without him.

All Photos Courtesy of Daan Verhoeven

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