Freediving is known to be a sport that requires both relaxation and mental toughness. What may often be overlooked is the ability to use the skills we learned during our courses in our everyday lives. We spoke to two freedivers in high stress jobs and asked them how they use their freediving skills in everyday life.
Jay Magee: Fire Fighter
I was first introduced to freediving while working as a Swiftwater Rescue Tech on a river rescue team. After completing PFI’s Intermediate Freediver course, I had a much greater level of confidence in my abilities to perform rescues, and a far more in-depth understanding of how to implement practices to better look out for my own safety as well as that of my teammates.
I was able to share this knowledge with my team and affect change in our standard operating procedures to ensure divers were practicing safe surface intervals, something that had never been mentioned in the 20 years prior in which the team had been operating.
Although I no longer work on that rescue team, I continue to use what freediving has taught me in my current profession as a firefighter. From calming my thoughts in stressful circumstances the same way I do during a static, to practicing breathing techniques to keep my heart rate lower and lessen my air consumption, freediving continues to help me on the job daily. When your adrenaline is pumping and your heart wants to beat a million times a minute, being able to make a tank of air last longer is crucial when you’re performing tasks like search and rescue for victims inside a burning house.
Being able to stay in that environment longer and maintaining the ability to critically think can be the difference between life and death, not only for you, but for the people inside counting on you to find them and get them out to safety.
When I’m away from the job, freediving again is there to help me. I routinely use it to relax after a taxing week, finding refuge from the real world as soon as I submerge. It is exactly this feeling of healing that I wish to share with everyone, inspiring me to pursue my PFI Freediver Instructor certification.
Valentin McCarthy : Helicopter Hoist Operator and Mechanic
If I were to tell you that freediving, (and the training it entails) has had a major, positive impact on my professional career as a helicopter mechanic, you might raise an eyebrow. What could maintaining and repairing a complex flying machine have anything to do with holding your breath underwater for extended periods of time?
In my unique case, I’m also a helicopter hoist operator. I fly off shore, in all weather, day or night to place highly skilled ship captains on major cargo vessels traversing the Columbia Bar in Astoria, OR. Most of the flying is over dark angry seas, with the occasional smooth glassy day in the short summers. While flying is relatively safe, there is always the increased risk of having a malfunction and being forced to land (or crash) in said angry ocean. It was at this intersection, of air and sea, where I turned to freediving.
I have always enjoyed the water but was never very good at being under for more than a few seconds. I recognized this was a major weak link if I were to ever be in a crash and have to spend some time under water trying to escape a sinking helicopter. So, I signed up for my first freedive class, and immediately my weakness became very obvious. I struggled with easy static apnea, and forcing myself to the bottom of the pool to pull my mask off was a major mental hurdle that I barely overcame.
But, this is why I signed up. To face these demons. Even though I was unable to complete the open water portion, my instructor and mentor challenged me to come do a pool workout with her. It was there, in that one pool session, that I truly had a breakthrough. Pushing through contractions in the static and dynamic apnea, I gained a new perspective. I realized I was capable of using my mind to push myself way past what was comfortable. This is where it directly impacted my skills as a hoist operator.
If a hoist was about to go sideways and the adrenaline started to surge, I would quickly remind myself “it’s ok, you can breathe, you can work through anything” and a sense of calm would wash over me. I give a great deal of credit to my success over the ocean to the mental toughness (and calmness) freediving has taught me.