Australian Freediving Depth Nationals, 2023.
Navigating Limits: Finding Strength in Acceptance
2023 – the year I had earmarked for re-entering the World of Freediving competition.
Covid and other factors had kept me away from the scene. The only previous competitions I had done were on a big scale, such as the World Championships and Vertical Blue, so I decided a smaller comp closer to home would be a great way to re-enter. The Australian Depth Nationals at Thibault’s Freediving school in the Camotes Philippines was where I landed.
I got to work. Pool training commenced, I purchased an Oura ring to track and enhance my sleep, I got to know the guy at my local supplements store on a first name basis, and started my morning routine of stretching, breathwork, meditation and visualisation, with the one missing ingredient as usual being depth to play in here in Australia.
The winter training was going well, I started to get back to hitting some good numbers in the pool again, my land-based training felt amazing and all in all things felt like they were on track. Yes, you know what’s coming…. UNTIL… I went to Bali for some depth and only three sessions in got Bali Belly – the worst I’d ever experienced only days before heading to the Philippines. I was reading a book from the Dalai Lama and was at the chapter around suffering and how suffering is a part of life and is essential for growth. So instead of cancelling, I thought 12 hours of travel with Bali Belly would get me acquainted with suffering, and it certainly did. I arrived at the Camotes with 5 days before the competition was due to start but the sickness had not left. So how did the rest pan out? Well, this is where the lessons begin.
The lessons in Freediving never end and I’ve made it my life’s work to pass on these lessons, with principles of dealing with pressure, lessons from the Meditation and the Yoga world and the pure and simple power of harnessing the breath. I am constantly telling my students at every level to listen to their body, to not operate from their ego, or push through pain or discomfort. But there I was summing up whether to push through or to accept that maybe this comp was not my time to shine, not my time to get some personal bests and just be ok with that.
You can’t muscle Freediving but with so few days left to train at depth, and so little days of depth under my belt I decided that I wanted to see where my body and mind were at. We go out to the platform and falling short of starting this tale, it was a dark and stormy night it was basically as bad as it gets. It was windy, there was swell, there was current and on that day I had decided I was going to do no fins (Breast-stroke down and up), a discipline that is tough at the best of times but add in the conditions of the day, adds a level of complexity on top of what is already a challenging discipline. To add to this I had been feeling great in no fins in the pool and in the few Ocean dives I had done to this point, so I decided I would attempt 51m which was 1 meter above my PB as I thought it was well within me and wanted to go much deeper in the competition.
The conditions for the breath up were tough, struggling with taking water in from time to time, thoughts of should I do this dive creeping in, but I went to the tried and tested techniques that I knew could calm the body and the mind.
With the body and mind now settled I duck dived down and started the dive. Counting my strokes on the way down as usual everything seemed fine, about halfway down I could feel the current pulling against my lanyard and knew it would be a tougher dive. I got to the bottom and knew I was in for a battle on the way up. My body was tired and sapped from the sickness, but I muscled it anyway. I have never blacked out in the Ocean but upon my arrival at the surface I knew it was going to be a rodeo act. With some recovery breath’s I brought myself back and recovered quickly but it was close. The stark reality was that my Ego, and expectations of myself and drive to succeed had over-ridden what I coach which is listen to your body always. Even in everyday life your body gives you clues like a big sigh when sitting at your computer working away which we often ignore at the expense of our health. I decided that again this was a lesson. The next morning, I woke up and my body was tired. I made the decision that maybe there was a different purpose for this competition. I had two students, turned friends, turned Pressure Project instructors doing this competition which would be their first. I listened to my body and left the ego at the door and decided that my role would be to coach and that I would not compete, and mentor these guys through their first Freediving competition.
This was just as rewarding and watching their smiling faces after surfacing and watching them hit new depths was just as rewarding. Sam Hourigan ended up being the Men’s depth champion and Jade Macdonald-Razvi getting the silver medal on the Women’s side of the draw. Congratulations to Sam and Jade who got 4 white cards and thanks to Australian Freediving Association and Thibault and his crew from the Camote Freediving School.
The positives were that I could get my body back to where it had been physically in the past and that mentally even in the worst conditions I could calm my body, calm my mind to be in the best possible position before leaving the surface. It was a bitter pill to swallow, months of ignoring chocolate, getting my son Taj to spot me in the pool, (he has been a certified Padi Freediver from age 12!), and training super hard to not compete was tough, but it was Freediving once again being my greatest teacher – don’t operate from a place of ego and listen to your body and mind when it’s saying we need rest.
The next challenge would be when I got back to Australia, decompressed, and thought back on my experience.
Next blog will discuss this next mental battle.