World Record Diary — Part IX

Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

Even though the 3 days that I dived back to back were physically exhausting, they were easier on me mentally. Immediately after each dive I do, I am confident I can make the next step a few meters deeper, but as the hours go by my insecurities creep in and by the night before a dive I question myself continuously. The memory of how strong I felt when I surfaced has faded and all I can focus on is the extra 4m I want to add. Everywhere I go I look at trees or poles and ask if this or that is 4m high so I can get an idea of what I am adding. At least 10 times a day Paul will pace out 4m and tell me that it’s only a couple more pulls and a kick cycle underwater. "Imagine Gilles standing on my shoulders", he’ll say, "That’s how much more it is."

But it all evaporates the second I am in the water. I guess it is a combination of my extreme comfort level in that environment and the extreme focus I have managed to develop just when it is needed. Either way, my nerves are gone and I am perfectly calm about what I am about to attempt.

My questioning of myself fascinates me. I tried to verbalise some of it to Gilles on the boat ride out to the dive site today. Redefine Your Limits has become like a faith or religion to me. Not in an obsessive kind of way, more in the way that I am tested and have come to believe so much in the way humanity needs to be tested. (And in making this comparison I don’t mean to demean anyone’s religion.) As a teacher I reinforce that in Freediving we of course have limits, indeed. As a man or a woman, an individual and as a race, each human has a limit in what they can do in anything they attempt, and in this case it’s apnea. By accepting there is a limit we accept our abilities straight away, whatever they are, for we are all different. But in challenging my students (and myself, I am my own student every day) to redefine their limits, I am saying that while we do have limits, they are simply nowhere near where we think they are. It’s fairly simple. Right now we think our limit is A, but in reality we can redefine it to be C. Or X. Or whatever. The learning and the development is in the journey between the two. This is where it becomes interesting for me, because I am continuously redefining my limits in this sport (and believe me in life) by continuously challenging myself to new depths. Yesterday, as I pondered all this while staring at the sea, I realized the absolute truth in being more afraid of success than failure. At least when you fail you know where your limit is! Each time I succeed, I am obliged to forge ahead. To learn. To develop. To redefine my limits…… I find it fascinating.

As I began my warm-up routine we were visited by 3 massive Mahi Mahi, a bull and 2 cows. They were all well over a meter long and I had a spectacular view as they initially appeared right at my fin tips at the surface! Their colours were hypnotic — blue, green, yellow, turquoise — and I was immediately reminded of my friend Guy Harvey’s beautiful marine life paintings. They didn’t stay around for long, but we all agreed they were an excellent omen for our dive. The rest of my preparation went smoothly and before I knew it I was whizzing down to 113m/371ft. Soon after the 70m taps there was a distinct change of temperature. I didn’t open my eyes at all until I heard the taps to signal I was a few meters from the end of the rope. When I did, it was darker than I had expected, and the shapes of John and Mike loomed in front of me, John’s strobe on the back of his rebreather flashing clearly and rhythmically. It was a comfortable journey down, my last equalization around 100m but I didn’t even bother trying to clear my ears again as I know very well how far I can travel at that depth on one equalization. I left the bottom quickly, to the tune of Dam Busters on helium. At 90m there was the same song, but at 70m the divers were singing something completely unintelligible — to me anyway! I smiled at them. I was kicking by then and the lactic acid was beginning to burn. The taps at 50m were welcome as always and I rippled the fingers on the hand that was visible to the divers and one clearly waved back to me. Then I began to pull again, those long gliding pulls that feel strong above 150ft. In the next few seconds Paul was there and then we were at the surface again. A minute and 12 seconds to the bottom and 2 full minutes back up again. I felt good. It was a great dive. And hugely significant to me — it was the same depth as my very first world record in 1998, except on that occasion I used the liftbag to come back up again! I certainly never thought I would even attempt to swim back from that depth!

After a short break and a quick shower we did an interview at the front of the boat to capture some raw emotions and thoughts about training so far, and then one by one I welcomed the divers back on to the boat. It is getting boring for the deep guys who have well over 2 hours of decompression to go through. I feel desperately sorry for them. They spend almost a full hour at 6m! After the record dive I will be sure to spend that hour entertaining them underwater somehow.

Pat and Rudi, being the jokers of the group, have managed to find ways to entertain themselves during deco stops. On their dive the other day, after I was surfaced and safe, they pulled out matching women’s leopard print thong underwear to put on over their wetsuits, much to the bemusement of the rest of the divers, and posed for pictures. It turns out it was Carol who provided said knickers, which leaves me with a few additional questions that I wont go into! Today, Rudi produced a rubber shark from his wetsuit and proceeded to creep up on the rest of them to aid passing the time. Why am I not surprised?

As usual we lunched a Guiseppes together and then a few of us attended a press conference at Beaches in connection with the Women’s Footballs Association’s upcoming series of matches against a Bahamian club team. I had been invited to attend and I think the rest of the guys went just to gawk at a few girls over the age of 14! It was highly entertaining, one way or another, even if it did severely eat into my nap time.

Later that evening, after I spent an hour or so online at Mark’s beautiful house, we went to watch the first football match. I was invited to meet all the players and shake their hands on the field together with their sponsors and officials, which was a great honour. The match was pretty exciting, although I don’t know the outcome yet. However, we saw the Turks & Caicos girls score a great goal in the first half before we had to return to the resort for a quick dinner and my usual date on stage to talk to the guests. So I am hopeful the home team won!

We spent an hour or so chatting after dinner, each of us yawning more and more, and then finally headed for our rooms a little before 10pm. The dive is exhausting for everyone involved and much as the younger guys would probably like to stay up and chase girls, even they have no stamina for it!

On an important note, it looks like we have a slight change of plans. Pending the approval of the Official AIDA Judges, we will make an official World Record attempt on Saturday as planned. The regulations for the attempt will be strictly adhered to, from the measuring of the rope to the urine sample I will have to provide after the dive. However, we will plan a second attempt on Monday 21st as well. The first reason is because one way or another I lost 5 training dives due to the weather and my cold a little while ago. The second reason is because our sponsors have advised us that the media will be more accepting of the news on a weekday rather than a weekend, when the news will be too soon for the Sunday papers but too late for the weekly papers. So, in essence, we will make the depth I hope to achieve on Saturday (to me another training dive) the first World Record and a back-up to Monday, and Monday’s dive the official World Record attempt. We have all worked so hard and don’t want to risk bad weather or an aborted dive wiping out Monday’s chance, so we will use Saturday as well. This is the main reason we go to the extra expense of having the judges here with us for almost 10 days, because you never know what will happen. And of course, there are those other 2 record attempts I would like to squeeze in as well, although I never seem to have the time to train for them!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

For those of you that have been following my diary in the last few weeks, the first thing you will notice about the entries over the next few days is that they will be shorter. There just seems to be so much going on that I can’t find any time to write about what happens each day — as it is, this is Wednesday’s diary but I am writing it on Friday morning. And I don’t know when I will find the time to go online and upload it! So bear with me.

I started today with static training, with the idea of a final goal of over 6 minutes for the last time before an official attempt with the judges. 3 or 4 of the guys trained with me as well. On my final static I reached 6 minutes strong and then at some point after that blacked out! I wasn’t at all disappointed because I have always admired freedivers that are able to push so hard in static breath-hold that they can overcome the urge to breathe so much that they black out. It is such a tough discipline because the air is only a couple of inches away and the temptation to come up short of your goal is unimaginable until you put yourself in that situation. Apparently I did give a strong signal at 6 minutes but about 10 seconds later began to exhale (sometimes normal for me), but not smoothly which is often the sign of a diver losing control. So Paul brought me up and sure enough I blacked out. I have always said that when a black out happens, your body is essentially giving you a great opportunity to learn about yourself, and I spent the day considering what things I did differently or wrong. Certainly I didn’t sleep well and for sure I am getting tired, losing energy etc. But perhaps today just wasn’t my day! You can expect that in this sport. This is a great way to remind people why no breath-hold activities should EVER be done alone.

After breakfast my plan was to relax in a hot bath before heading to Mark’s house to go online for a few hours. But the phone kept ringing and I gave a few interviews. I got my bath but it was quick and I was late to Mark’s but got managed to get some work done. At 2:15pm Paul and Gilles came to pick me up to take me to the post office where the official presentation of my stamps was to take place. It was a small ceremony but I have to admit to getting very emotional when asked to give a small speech to the press. I am so overwhelmed by the way I have been welcomed in these islands, and for them to commemorate my dives with a set of postage stamps is very special.

They boys and I grabbed a burger on the way back to the hotel and then I wanted to take a nap but found I just couldn’t fall asleep.

In the evening my mother and the 2 Official AIDA Judges arrived on the same plane. After their arrival we joined many of the rest of the team who had gathered for dinner here at Beaches. Also, 2 friends of ours from Austin had also arrived, Connie and Phil, who are staying at Comfort Suites because the resort here is full. They will be on the team as the scuba divers stationed at the surface. Best of all, Connie is a massage therapist I have been going to in Austin in the weeks leading up to coming here, so she has promised to work on my tired muscles! It was great to see them all. By 9:30pm I was falling asleep so Paul and I headed off for an early night. But I am finding it very hard to fall asleep, even though I am so exhausted. There is just too much going around in my head! And I toss and turn all night, waking up a lot.

Thursday, July 17th, 2003

Today began like all the diving days, although when I got to the boat it was really full now that the judges are here and every last diver! We set the rope at 117m/384ft and I did the dive successfully, although it was certainly pretty tough. On the descent I missed and equalization and had to push my ears to make the end of the rope, which was painful of course. I grimaced through my arrival at 117m, I could hear the deep divers break into a great rendition of the theme from Indiana Jones. The ascent was a long way up and I had more contractions than I have had on previous dives. I didn’t wave or smile at anyone. But I cleared the surface the same as I have on all the other dives, relaxed and not pulling for the last 10m or so, and popping out of the water to catch a few quick breaths. The descent took me one minute and 16 seconds, and the ascent took 2:04, meaning a total dive time of 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

After my dive was done, the judges had a go on the sled, beginning with 20m to get used to it and then reaching slightly less than 40m. They were all smiles the second they got in the water because they are used to diving in cold, dark lakes in Switzerland. Unfortunately we weren’t visited by any fish until right at the end, after all but one diver had come out of the water, when 4 small reef sharks took an interest in him. I guess there are just too many people in the water at this point.

After our usual team lunch I attempted my usual nap. But I grabbed only about 30 minutes of sleep and then Connie gave me a great massage. My muscles are a mess, in particular around my jaw, neck and shoulders where I hold all my stress, so she helped me to relax as much as possible.

In the evening we went to the home of the Operations Manager here at Beaches as his wife had invited the whole team for dinner. It was an incredibly generous gesture to have all 20+ of us in her home while her husband is away on business. Unfortunately I had to leave for an hour to return to Beaches to give my regular on-stage presentation. But the rest of the crew (plus the official topside photographer and my childhood friend Tim Aylen, the last to arrive this afternoon) had a great time. Gilles put a photo slideshow on his computer and then Brien showed a 20 minute video that he has edited together from the footage we have so far gathered. It was a lovely evening.

Both Paul and I slept horribly.

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