Jill was bouncing around like a schoolgirl trying anything to take her mind off the fact that she was going to have to cease her breathing in only a few minutes. Tanya’s Suunto was counting down… "two minutes folks, …that’s two minutes! Come on now, I don’t hear any breathing…. let’s go people!"
The countdown zeroed and the neoprene encased bodies went limp back into the steamy water. Jill horribly failed to make it to the first signal and pulled up around 30 seconds. Tanya ignored her frantic gestures and simply, but authoritatively, told her to breathe. Our instructor’s focus was now on the other two students keen on following the drills. Tanya nodded for the one-minute signal to be given by the appointed buddies, and then she quietly moved up in front of Jill.
"I want you to listen to me," said Tanya, "and don’t stop your breathing. Just listen and focus."
Tanya’s own mental focus here was borderline astonishing. This petite, 28-year-old, Cayman native had transformed into this angelic mentor for this individual at this one brief, yet highly important moment. Her words were sincere, swift, and most importantly effective, for Jill came out of her corner with a glazed over look of extreme determination. Jill, a regular SCUBA diver who had never attempted premeditated breatholds, easily cleared the two-minute mark on her last static. Her accomplishment brought a smile to the faces of everyone else in the pool. Her schoolgirl antics continued, but now with an added sense of elation.
My visit with the Streeters began with my arrival at the Austin airport Friday afternoon. It was near the curb outside Baggage Claim that I righteously displayed my longblades on top of my luggage. I was only able to explain what these large, black, plastic thingies were to one officer and three civilians before Paul and Tanya pulled up in their pickup. A short ride to their home and a long intro on ourselves made way for all of the events that were to take place that weekend.
Tanya was well aware that my interest in her clinic was solely to improve my ability to spearfish. My first conversation with Paul had enlightened me to the fact that his wife was a pretty skilled spearo. Obviously, this was one of the reasons that sold me on her clinic. It seemed that most of our time together outside of the clinic was spent trading stories of all our adventures spearfishing. Ironically, the Streeters had plans to transform me from a diehard spearo to a freediver "with accessories."
The clinic was structured around two full days. Classroom sessions were held both mornings, followed by drills and exercises in the pool. Sunday’s regime was followed up by a trip to Lake Travis where we would get a chance to put to test all of Tanya’s deepest secrets.
Saturday’s class began with the group’s introduction along with that of the cameraman and reporter from CBS. It seemed Tanya was not too pleased to have the media there. Her concern for the students getting the most out of the class was totally clear when she told the guys that if they were to interrupt anything, they would have to leave.
The time in the classroom flew by with Tanya mimicking both the History Channel and the Discovery Channel when she covered freediving’s background and its psycho/physiological aspects, respectively. Countless issues were covered and discussed in great depths, but the simple definition page seemed to awe most of the attendees. These pages covered, what seemed to be every word that had ever been uttered by freedivers over the sport’s entire course of existence. The inexperienced were now "lingo" competent.
The pool sessions entailed several drills and examples that led to a better understanding of the esoteric jargon that Tanya had so eloquently spewed out in the classroom. From a spiritual perspective, we were all coming "full circle." Soon we would be able to put into practice all that we had learned, or at least thought we had.
It was now all so clear to me. The plateau I had hit on my performance at depth was not entirely psychological. There were many physiological issues I had never thought of dealing with. It had seemed that all of my mental diary entries had focused on my inability to descend to depth without a gun. To me, this spelled PSYCHOLOGICAL in all caps! Lake Travis would be the first place I’d get the chance to knock that so-called monkey off my back.
Following Sunday morning’s class and pool drills, we ate a light lunch and discussed what we were going to do out at the lake. With all questions answered, Tanya’s convoy headed out to Lake Travis where we met up with our captain, crew, and vessel. Once over our spot, Paul and the crew set the anchor and deployed the dive lines. Tanya spent this time making sure everyone was both mentally and physically prepared to begin our open water session.
We all warmed up with modest dives with both Paul and Tanya meeting us at certain depths on our ascent for safety reasons and to also critique our techniques. At first, Tanya focused on helping the more novice divers on their form. She gave Paul the job to watch over myself and another advanced student while we got comfortable going up and down the dive lines in the cold and murky water.
The darkness was extremely intimidating. The cold didn’t help, but the wetsuits were making it tolerable. My concentration was somewhere back on shore, and it wasn’t until Tanya had a little heart to heart with me that I regained some focus. My previous dive was to 55 feet, which was the bottom of one of their lines. It was now time to move to the 100+ footer. After a period of proper breathing, I descended down the longer line. The light on my mask came on about 30 feet down and I felt my buoyancy go from neutral to negative. I started to glide and soon reached my target depth of 70 feet. A few kicks towards the surface led me right to Tanya. I gave her the OK signal and we both continued on up. The entire dive felt awful. My equalizing was too sporadic and my descent posture felt quite awkward. Tanya confirmed this and kindly suggested I snap out of my spearfishing mode(search and destroy).
There was nothing to see and no gun to descend with. I had to accept Tanya’s technique. I had to believe that it would get me to a depth I wanted, both efficiently and effectively. I chose 80 feet to be my next dive to practice my descent posture and equalizing. My new mentor was now softly speaking to me over my controlled breathing. I felt like Luke in Star Wars being told by Obe Wan to "let go" and "use the force." I had brought my speargun dilemma back into the equation, and I had forgotten all of the classroom discussions that had just preceded our outing here. I somehow had to block out this hang-up. Turning roles from Jedi Master to Sports Psychologist, Tanya brought me back to a more peaceful mindset. I then tuned back into the methodic rhythm of my heartbeat. This led to a more direct sense of my body’s condition. I felt relaxed and ready. I went through the checklist like a fighter pilot does before takeoff. My body gave me the "go-for-launch", so I took one last breath and quietly slipped below the surface, heading back down into the darkness.
I could feel my body offering less resistance being in a more streamlined position. My head and neck were relaxed. My eyes were focused on the line. My equalizing was consistent and gentle. I became negative and continued soaring downwards. A brief glimpse at my depth gauge showed I was passing 60 feet. I felt great and knew I had properly prepared for this dive. Past 70 my lungs started to squeeze. Equalizing was becoming more difficult, but I kept focused. With my head straight and arms relaxed overhead, I glided past 75, then 80, 85. Now, it seemed I had nothing left to equalize with. This feeling was all too new to me, and a bit of anxiety started to settle in. I slowed my descent and gently grabbed the line. As my body re-inverted, I caught another glimpse of my gauge. The third digit on the display confused me at first, but then the cold water on my teeth, due to an overwhelming smile, was enough to confirm that I had attained a depth I had never visited before.
Tanya met me around 50 feet and we both ascended together. I reached the surface without any unpleasantness and gave another thumbs-up to Tanya. I heard several diver’s utter "well?" All I could do was smile.
Tanya’s clinic was more than just a professional freediver sharing her knowledge and techniques with paying students. It was extremely personal and required all the students to consciously open themselves to the possibility of achieving failure, defeat, and embarrassment. With this new sense of openness, Tanya was able to lead us to the more noble achievements such as success and gratification through our own personal accomplishments.
Tanya Streeter herself admitted to the fact that just because someone holds multiple world records doesn’t automatically make them a good teacher. I think that this mindset is going to allow her to continue her success as a teacher and a mentor. For me, I guess it’s just plain and simple… the fish no longer stand a chance!