|Interviewing Junko. Photo by Chip|
Junko was the first female diver I interviewed, and I was surprised, shocked really, to find out she is 42. Then I met the other women in this competition.
|Carla demonstrating the only thing that kept her from a national record.|
I could go on and on. These are inspiring and colorful women. There is Lena, the 33-year-old former actress from Serbia, Linden, the professional, freediving mermaid, who serves as a judge, and DeeDee, the self-proclaimed "shemale" in gender "transition," a standup comedian and freediving underwater photographer. And then there is the ultimate freediving goddess:
In a sport of mind over, well, everything, where the brain must override utter panic and the body's belief that death is imminent, Natalia is a champion. When she dons her wetsuit and enters the water, her unshakeable focus is so intense, it's as if she has stepped into another dimension. Even though I could see her, it seemed to me she had gone so far into another place that she couldn't see back.
|Natalia in her other realm. That's her lying on the surface in a pink wetsuit, |
with her head resting on a yellow noodle swimming toy, preparing to enter the abyss.
On her way to the surface, she suffered a frightening (to me) blackout well below the surface and had to be ferried up by safety divers who then shouted at her, "breathe, breathe, breathe!"
|Natalia Molchanova, center, returning to us from the abyss.|
Today, on the seventh day of the competition, she donned her old, thicker wetsuit, dove to 100 meters successfully retrieving the tag, just as she had done on the previous three attempts. (Although this was three meters less than the first day, it was still enough to set the world record.)
We all waited at the surface for an astonishing 3 minutes and 42 seconds as Natalia fought the demons of the underworld.
"10 meters. 8 meters. 5 meters," the announcer called out as she approached the surface, all of us holding our breath, or at least I know I was.
She came blasting out of the water, and with the 15-second clock ticking, removed her face gear, gave the hand signal and said, "I'm okay." The judge flashed a white card giving Natalia every world record in women's competitive freediving -- at 48 years old.
The press box of one, gasped for air, and the crowd went wild.
|Lena, the lovely and perpetually happy Serbian actress, who turned back|
early on her dive one day, because "there were demons down there."
|DeeDee, the spectacular.|
|Natalia Molchanova after her world record dive and the professional|
mermaid judge flashing the white card, symbol of a successful dive.
|And then everyone lined up for a photo with the champion of the deep.|
More on Freediving and Dean's Blue Hole:
My column about Freediving in Classic Yacht.