Friday, July 18th, 2003
Today was a total rest day. As I write this I am desperately trying to remember what we did!! I was surprised by a friend of ours from Austin who has a scuba shop "Austin Aquatics" which hosts the pool training part of my clinics. He decided that because tomorrow is his birthday, he would fly down for the record — I was thrilled!
Some of the guys had a big night last night and only got back to Beaches as the sun was coming up…….so their day was pretty quiet! In the afternoon, some of them rallied for the official measurement of the dive rope. Sebastien Nagel and Frederic Busslinger, Official AIDA Judges, were as officious as ever with their preparation. It was a relief to see that their marks on the rope were mere centimeters off from ours, meaning a) we were as accurate as we thought we were, and b) I would have no surprises on record day going deeper or shallower than expected. We only marked 122m for the Variable Weight attempt but put marks at 35m, 40m and 45m for the Constant Weight Without Fins. At this point I need to fit in another couple of training dives to get a prerequisite depth so I can go for more than 38m, but time is ticking away and the VB is my obvious priority.
Earlier in the day I decided to take a stab at the Static Apnea record, but I made the mistake of doing it in a pool we had never trained in at a private home on the island, and at a time I have never trained at. The result was that I was hot and out of sync. And I wasn’t thrilled with the NBC Dateline TV crew who, being new to this sport, didn’t give me much room to breathe — literally! My warm-up dives went so poorly that I called off the attempt before even beginning it. But I learnt that next time, if we have time, I will do it at my usual time of 7:30am in the pool I have been training with! We all agreed it was the best decision, rather than pushing myself to exhaustion for a time that would fall short of the 6 minutes 18 second minimum I would need, or pushing to a blackout again…..which now I know I can do!
In the evening the team gathered for a briefing for tomorrow’s attempt. As in the past, I only stayed around for the first 5 minutes to thank them and excuse myself as I get nervous listening to them go through it all from their perspective. Instead, my mother and I went out for dinner at Caicos Café not far from Beaches. It was hard to eat dinner, but I loaded up on as much pasta as I could, knowing I would need the energy for the first shot at 122m tomorrow.
As I think I mentioned (I have explained it so many times I am losing track of who I tell…..), tomorrow’s dive will be under the AIDA Record Attempt regulations and, if successful, will to all intents and purposes be a new World Record. But, officially Monday 21st is the day, as that is what the sponsors and media are expecting. Tomorrow, from my perspective, is a training dive to ensure that Monday’s attempt is a success. And a back up World Record dive (assuming I do it!!) just incase on Monday the weather blows us out or the dive is called off for another reason. Or I am unsuccessful.
Whatever happens, I am ready for it to be over!
Saturday, July 19th to Thursday July 25th, 2003
As I write this I am at home in Austin, Texas, at my desk with a cup of tea. Over the many miles between Providenciales and Austin I gradually morphed back into the woman I am at heart and spent hours wondering how I did it. Already it seems so long ago, and my beloved team-mates seem so far away!
By now those of you following my attempt have probably seen the coverage CNN, BBC or any of the many other major networks carried (CBS, NBC, FOX, even your national or local network/newspaper!), and therefore know that the Variable Weight record attempt was a fantastic success for athlete, team and sponsors alike. 122m/400ft in 3 minutes 38 seconds (the AP erroneously reported 3:58). Just a few hours after Monday’s official dive, and with little sleep between live radio/TV phone interviews in Australia and Britain just a few hours apart, we continued the success by setting a comfortable 35m mark in AIDA’s new Constant Weight Without Fins category which took a minute and forty four seconds. (I never did find the time to get a couple more training dives in to achieve the required prerequisite for a dive around 45m which I had wanted to do…)
Saturday’s VB dive was amazing. Tough, but amazing. Beautiful reef sharks circled the boat and dive rope as I prepared. On the descent I stopped the sled a couple of times between 95m and the bottom, to ensure a couple more good equalizations. After announcing a new world record with their helium-laced voices, the deep boys (John G and Mike F) broke into perfect harmony with Crocodile Rock again. I pulled from the bottom to around 85m. The divers at 90m said I was smiling with my eyes closed. Kicking past the 70m divers, I wiggled my fingers in the only wave I could afford to give them. With 50m approaching my legs began to burn. Tap, tap, tap. Smile and wiggle fingers. A few more kick cycles. Then the popping of Phil’s strobe. I remembered him saying he didn’t have many shots of me kicking as he never dives below 50m, so I forced out a few more long kicks for him. (The images look totally posed, as if it’s a joke, as I have such a grin on my face!) At last I pulled again, and the lactic burn eased in my quads. Long, slow pulls — the kind that make you feel like you are flying. The sensation was only marred by contractions in my chest. At 23m I was excited to see Paul. I winked at him. I was already smiling. At the surface I breathed and gave OK signals. More breathing and a little scream of excitement. Paul yelled at me to breathe — he could see it was a tough dive and didn’t want me to mess things up be getting too excited within the 60 second period that the judges scrutinize after surfacing. I pulled off my hood, a terrible habit that I have to stop doing — my Red Bull logo belongs on my forehead when the cameras are clicking! Then at last 60 seconds were gone and Sebastien confirmed I could hug my husband. No words, no need.
The 180 minutes of decompression time for the deep divers were wonderful. Full of sled drops for the judges and those who had not been on scuba, swimming with the sharks who had grown very bold indeed! And more hugging.
We didn’t really break into massive celebrations, knowing we needed to do it all again on Monday. But that evening was very special for me. Just the team gathered on the dock. Beaches sent down coolers of beer and wine, and Paul went out for pizza. As the sunset and then under the stars (and a beautiful firework display courtesy of another party down the beach) we spent a wonderful few hours together. John bought his guitar and made up songs about us all. We celebrated in the understated way we all dive, happy for our success but realistic about what it all means. The dive is just a dive. A great experience, but just a dive. The team is everything. We remain full of trust and respect for each other and our respective responsibilities that made it all a success.
No static training the following day, just rest. We still woke early (our bodies are programmed) but one way or another the day flew by and before we knew it we were at The Tiki Hut for burgers and pasta (more carbo-loading) in preparation for the official dive day.
The dive was equally successful and I admit to pure relief to have them both out of the way. The sharks were back under the surface and champagne flowed on one spectator boat that was filled with members of the Turks & Caicos government, my key sponsors. It was another great day. And once I had caught my breath and hugged everyone in sight, it was time for a 45m VB drop for me to pose for pictures for Philip, then more drops for non-scuba divers. Champagne on the deco line with the deep boys and then, when at last we were the only boat out there and all the divers were up, we toasted ourselves with the last bottle, and drank out of whatever we could find — masks, lens caps and even a cup or two!
Back on shore there was a reception at the restaurant overlooking the beach. Alas, I was mostly inside with a cellphone to my ear giving interviews, but the celebrations outside were enjoyed by those who deserved it the most, tired though they were. The partying stopped early as it seemed we all had work to do. The photo guys, Phil and Tim, worked hard with Paul to get images out, and the video guys, Gilles and Brien, broke speed records in editing rushes together that would later be beamed all over the world (LITERALLY).
Somewhere in there we decided to go for the Constant Weight Without Fins the next day.
Around 11:00pm a cell phone rang. A caller from Australia asked for me. John, who answered the phone, thought it was Aussi crazy man and friend Dave Apperley of deep-boy-from-the-no-limits-record-in-only-a-pair-of-shorts fame. Just as well we didn’t hang up on him, as it was a TV station eager to do a live phone interview. When that finally ended and I headed to bed near midnight, adrenaline kept me tossing and turning. A few hours of shallow sleep later, the phone rang for my 3am interview for Channel 5’s (UK) Jimmy and Gabby Morning Show. I managed to sound awake but never opened my eyes. But I didn’t really fall back to sleep again either, and the phone continued to go.
The wind howled on Tuesday morning. With us all so focused on the past few days events, we hadn’t bothered to check the weather forecast. If we had, we would have seen that a hurricane was headed right at us! Luckily, overnight it broke up into a tropical storm. Our dive was scheduled for the afternoon, when the doctors were available again and Big Blue Unlimited could provide a boat. As we headed out to the dive site around 4:30pm massive storm clouds gathered. I wondered if I was pushing my luck when I saw nothing by white-capped waves for miles. At our site the boat tossed and the rope bowed with the swing the wind provided. More than just a few times I mentioned to anyone that would listen that I was unsure I could handle the current with no fins on! Nobody seemed to think I wouldn’t cope and the judges agreed the conditions were the right side of boarderline. At last I looked up on the boat at the team and fans that had come to watch in such awful conditions (try thunder and rain and swells enough to make our doctor seasick!) and decided I had to at least try. I was thankful that I had announced a depth I had achieved in training (after a 98m VB dive once day, I think). After warming up in my wetsuit to fight the cold, I stripped off down to the skin I had put on underneath and sat on the back of the boat to prepare with a towel wrapped around me. I still shivered and was nearly thrown from the boat a couple of times. Sebastien, clinging to the ladder beside me, was more than once swallowed by a wave and we exchanged chuckles. At 30 seconds I entered the water and began my final breaths. I left straight after Carol called out zero (Kevin wanted to see it from underwater and was on scuba). Below the water the descent seemed so slow compared to the speed of the sled, and the rope swung into me and then away from me. Predetermined taps and an alarm on my computer indicated I could lift my chin to look for a mark on the rope. We had decided to put 3 marks (I am allowed up to 5 to ensure a record) at 30m, 35m and 38m. The tape was almost invisible to me against the dark water thanks to the clouds above and I was confused about where I grabbed the rope. Once grabbed though, I could not release and grab again, so I touched the rope as deep as I could (hoping for the knot at 38m but suspecting I was not even at 35m) and then began the ascent. It wasn’t difficult and I went slowly. Again Paul and I surfaced together and it all went well. We wouldn’t know exactly what the official depth was until the video from the bottom was reviewed, so we went by the computer’s assessment of 35m. I felt sure I was shallower but as it happens by hand reached out and just missed the 38m mark, so the official depth was referred back to the next mark up the rope, per the rules. That was fine by me, given the conditions! I enjoyed the dive and I enjoy this discipline and marvel and those I know can go so much deeper — amazing! It will be fun to watch how deep AIDA athletes will go over the coming seasons. It’s great to have a discipline that doesn’t need so much depth to dive in or safety divers to support, as I feel it will open up the sport to more people.
Wednesday was mostly a free day and saw the departure of some of the team. Rudi had left immediately after Monday’s dive (my emotions were raw and I bawled like a baby!) and it was bitterly sad for me to have to be saying goodbye so soon. Even now I miss them all like hell — it makes me teary! Raw emotions still I suspect. We decided to head to my normal static training pool at 7:30am for a final go at the breath-hold record, just in case I still had it left in me. My warm-ups went pretty well so I was vaguely hopeful, but when the big dive came I fell asleep on several occasions in the first 3 minutes. Normally that can work in my favour as it keeps me relaxed, but in this case I was more than just relaxed and every time I "woke up" it was with a jump and all in all I was a lot less relaxed than I thought I was. Soon after four minutes my first uncomfortable sensation came, followed by a contraction and straight away I weakened. My resolve to succeed was gone and my head was full of thoughts about what I had already achieved. I came up after that contraction and simply apologized for dragging everyone out so early. I was tired physically and mentally, had lost the desire to do it. And I realized that trying the most mentally draining discipline after all we had already done was too great a challenge. I certainly wasn’t (and still am not) disappointed. We all had breakfast together instead.
Then I tried to arrange for the Judges to join a dive boat for some freediving so they could see something other than blue water on this trip, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We gave them the car keys so they could tour the island instead and I think they had a good time.
Later in the morning, Paul, Mum, Tim, John, his wife Jay and I flew off to Grand Turk, the capital island. We had a tour of the island and local points of interest. At the Philatelic Bureau I met the ladies who worked so hard on the preparation of my commemorative stamps and at the Turks and Caicos National Museum I signed autographs for the children and was blown away by the contents of the museum. It’s a must-see if you ever visit TCI. Grand Turk is quaint and colonial and seemingly has a higher population of wild donkeys and horses than people. In the evening the Governor held a reception in my honour, which was rather overwhelming, with speeches from leading politicians about how the exposure from our event had already exceeded their expectations. I hadn’t expected to have to give a speech and stumbled through an emotional acknowledgement. Back at the lovely Osprey Hotel where we were to stay the night, a party was laid on and John jammed on his guitar with local musicians and it sounded great. Paul and I stole 10 minutes alone to stroll on the beach, but we were so tired that we headed to bed soon afterwards. The following morning we stole another 10 minutes to sit on a deserted beach while our plane flew in over our heads. We headed to the airport and back to Provo.
The next 24 hours were filled with goodbyes and packing, both of which were monumental tasks considering our level of exhaustion at this point. But once done, we found ourselves on the way home at last, and slept a lot of the way. On the short hop from Dallas to Austin, I stared blankly out of the window for the whole flight and Paul finally asked what was going through my head. For 30 minutes I sat wondering how the hell I did it. In the last 48 hours that we have been home (my suitcase is still half-full) I have realized how much faith and motivation I got from the team and truly, what a complete rip-off it is that only the freediver’s name goes in the record book. I believed I could do it because they believed I could do it, it’s that simple. And the hours that they put in to make it all happen makes my 3+ minute dives seem all but irrelevant!
If I write any more, I’ll get all emotional……it’s done. What a great journey.