This year’s Origin ECN Vertical Blue was special for many reasons. It was the 10th anniversary of the world’s most elite freediving competition. And it was only the second time ever that Russian freediver Alexey Molchanov won an overall event against his favorite (and seemingly only) rival William Trubridge. But perhaps most importantly it was the first time the freediving community had a chance to come together in a memorial celebration of Vertical Blue’s former Chief of Safety Stephen Keenan, exactly one year after the date of his passing. Stephen was such a vital and steadfast part of the worldwide community, it was only fitting that William chose to keep Keenan’s legacy of honor and safety alive with a commemorative medal.

Trubridge had this to say:

“We are going to start a new tradition by awarding this lifesaver medal every year. While it is true that every member of our safety crew is simply top-notch, and deserving of great thanks & appreciation, our plan will be for a committee of AIDA community freedivers and Vertical Blue to select a recipient that will be recognized — an individual who goes above and beyond the way that Stephen did. The Stephen Keenan Memorial Medal will be awarded every year going forward, as a way of remembering Steve for who he was and what he inspired: valor, dedication and selflessness. It was my privilege this year to present the medal on behalf of over a dozen freedivers who graciously funded its creation. The generous benefactors included Alexey Molchanov, Adam Stern, Anna Von Boetticher, Beci Ryan, Camilla Jaber, David Trubridge, Dean Chaouche, Georgina Miller, Ken Kiriyama, Michael Board, Sachiko Fu, Simon Bennett, Sofia Gomez Uribe, Tim Money, and myself.”

As fortune would have it, William’s father, David Trubridge, an award-winning designer with an international following, was ready to take on the task of interpreting the symbolism of Keenan’s devotedness & his Irish roots and to marry those attributes to the concept of life-saving. As he often does in his work, David Trubridge adopted a theme of artistry in nature for the special medal.

Artist David Trubridge crafting his original design commemorating Keenan's Irish heritage.
Artist David Trubridge crafting his original design commemorating Keenan’s Irish heritage.

Trubridge senior said:

“William and I worked out the design for the Stephen Keenan Memorial Medal together.  William liked the idea of referencing a life ring and also the colors of the Irish flag. So I decided to use three materials of the color of the tricolor: orange New Zealand matai for the wooden outer ring, green New Zealand pounamu for the center and white cotton string. Matai is a native hardwood that grows to enormous size and it is one of my favorite timbers to work with because of its close grain. Pounamu is our local jade or greenstone, much prized by Maori carvers. I turned the outer ring on my lathe and a local pounamu artist Aaron Grieves carved the center.”

William Trubridge hands out the Stephen Keenan Memorial Medal to Marco Cosentino ( photo by Francesca Koe)
William Trubridge hands out the Stephen Keenan Memorial Medal to Marco Cosentino (photo by Francesca Koe)

Marco Cosentino was completely caught off-guard when William announced that the first recipient, (after a posthumous awarding to Stephen) would be the Italian.

“This year was my 10th year participating at Vertical Blue as a member of the safety team and it was my absolute privilege to be designated Chief Of Safety. I can distinctly remember the first time I arrived here in Long Island to support the 2009 edition: there was a relatively small group of athletes, most of whom were the best freedivers in the world at the time. The platform was made of wood and we were assisting with, at most, 10 dives per day. They were all National or World Records from Herbert Nitsch, William Trubridge, Ryuzo Shinomiya and Davide Carrerra…the first generation of truly professional freedivers, the champions who paved the road to so that the sport of freediving could be spread worldwide. At that time safety protocols for competitions were in their embryonic state, coupled with the absence of precise standards and also with gaps of information from a medical & scientific point of view. We were freediving instructors with basic BLS certifications but we were not yet professionals in this role and our work was facilitated by the fact that all the athletes we supported were well-known professionals with many years of experience.”

For ten years in a row, Marco has been coming to support his friend William as a safety diver. Over the years Cosentino has seen many things evolve and change.

“For a decade I have witnessed dramatic changes taking place in the world of apnea, both from a technical perspective and from an educational point of view, and in particular from safety management. After the death of Nicholas Mevoli in 2013, (the first death of an athlete in the 20 years AIDA has been sanctioning competitions), the rush of public opinion and the spotlight of social media on the world of competitive freediving bore consequence. The role of the safety team and the medical crew has become much more important, I would say crucial, for a sport which is growing in an incredible way. These events lead to the development of new safety procedures and standards and accelerated the adoption of more professional figures in the roles of safety. And the role of Safety Diver became very pronounced when one of the best of us, our dear friend and never-forgotten chief of safety Stephen Keenan donated his life to save another person in the Red Sea in Dahab. During #VB2018 the safety team was comprised of friends of Steve. We did our best to honor his memory. Steve is and will always be one of us. I am humbled and grateful for this award.”

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