After the meeting I drove back to Amed to get my equipment and returned to sleep in a hotel in Tulamben. My check in time the following morning was set for 6:54 am, meaning I needed to stretch and get dressed (if you haven’t put on a wetsuit before..believe me, it takes a bit) early. The drive from my house isn’t too long (15 minutes) but driving on a main road simply stressed me out which is not what you want to do before a freedive competition – specially not for your first one. My friend Mar who is also an intern at Apneista, is now my house/bedmate and has basically become a seaster in my life (tu también Jimena) was arriving that same night from KL and we were hoping she could make it on time for my performance the next day as my “coach” in the water. Unsure this would happen or not, and having done all we could to make it happen I simply ‘let it be.’
Spending the night in a hotel was actually very nice for me. Having a different space to focus and just be during the competition reminded me of when I paddled and my team would check-in to the Gamboa Resort the night before the final stretch or the sprints. I also made some pasta with pesto when I went to get my gear and having that for dinner, plus being in the hotel, just put me in the “ok, its competition time” mindset.
I went to bed at around 10:30 after texting friends and family the time they could see my performance on the live feedback. I was surprised at how calm I felt. Usually when I used to paddle I would start feeling anxious days before the race (it got better with time), my stomach would feel all full of butterflies, I couldn’t stop talking (yea, even more!), or moving about and going to sleep was a task in itself because my mind was going a million miles an hour. This time it was different. As I had been doing for almost two weeks prior (thank you ear infection) I simply replayed my dive in my head and went to sleep easily. The next morning I was up bright and early in order to do my breathing exercises and stretches before having a small snack and heading to Apnea Bali. I was the 4th athlete that day so the shop was quiet. I did some more stretching and put my things out. I have a 3.5mm wetsuit so it definitely keeps me warm in the water but you don’t want to be walking around with it forever or you’ll melt so I put It on as late as I could and then headed for the beach to check in. There, a doctor checked my oxygen saturation level and my heart rate…it was 115 bpm. Quite fast. Although I didn’t feel TOO nervous, I clearly was. It was very quiet at the beach and I could actually hear my heart pounding because of my hood.
According to AIDA regulations an athlete can enter the water only 45 minutes before their official time. By then unfortunately Mar had not arrived so my “coach” spot on the boat was for another competitor and new friend, Adrian. Four of us set out to the platform for our first day of competition.
The water was clear, the conditions were perfect: no wind, no waves, no current. Beautiful and flat. The platform was set up so there was a PVC square that separated the diving area from the rest. There were 2 extra buoys for warm up dives. I arrived to the one furthest away from the square where an official safety would accompany me during my warm up dives.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to do Variable Weight as my first warm up which is what I’ve been used to doing, so instead just went for a hang at around 15m. It didn’t feel good. I felt tense and simply did not enjoy being underwater. I came out and didn’t worry too much about it, recognizing that my first w.u doesn’t always feel good. Before doing my second warm up I took of my mask and put on my nose clip and snorkel. In the few days prior to the competition I started realizing how much this helped me relax and enjoy the dives. After doing so I went for my second warm up dive, just up and down the line to approximately 20m using my nose clip. You’ll see most divers do their deep dives without a mask and just a nose clip but for me at least it causes more tension. Because I am blind as a bat I’m terrified of losing a contact so knowing I simply cannot open my eyes or I might lose a contact is something that doesn’t allow me to relax entirely. I do recognize it feels good to have the water on the face and it does activate a lot of physical responses (MDR) that will help my diving. So, for now, what I do is a warm up dive like this and try to slowly go deeper with just the nose clip.
Anyway, the second warm up felt good and it was soon my turn on the platform. I didn’t want to see much of the dives before me as to not stress out so I kept my distance until the diver before me went for his dive. While he surfaced someone put a dive computer on my hand and I took off my fins and put them in the buoy closest to the PVC square. I took a sip from a safety divers water bottle (not sure who’s it was..so thanks!) to calm the urge I get to swallow before a dive. I felt nervous, tried to move as slow and little as possible to keep my heart rate low. I asked Eli, one of the organizers, to be my “coach” for the dive as my friend hadn’t made it.
I felt nervous. I clipped on my lanyard to the rope and felt how one of the judges checked it. My neck pillow flies away but someone passes to me again. 3 min to go. Eli began to sway me a little as I had asked her, making sure I felt relaxed. I do brahmari breathing to help me with relaxation. She brings me closer to the line so I can hold on. 2 min to go, no more swaying. I breathe normally, feeling my belly rise and fall slowly. I smile and think about hugs…lots of hugs. I bring back the memory of the last hug I gave to my grandparents, my parents, my Nossas, my friends, family members…basically any and all hugs I can think of, replay them in my head. This gives me a sense of peace and happiness. 1 min to go… keep smiling, stay relaxed. 30 seconds…I take a big inhale and passively exhale. I do this again. 10 seconds…I make sure I finished my passive exhale, swallow, and then begin to inhale. My belly fills up. 5…then my chest. 4…my upper chest. 3..my back. 2…I force as much air as I can…1…I close my mouth…Official top, +1…I relax my shoulders and being pulling myself down.
Now, I can’t really tell you what goes through my mind as all this happens because in a way my body is doing what it already knows to do. And my mind is simply there, present, feeling the pressure. I’m very lucky to be able to equalize without having to pinch my nose (hands free) so I’m very aware of doing so as I go down. I count my pulls instinctively and when I get to 14/15 and hear my alarm beep I make sure to have one extra hard pull and let go. I start my freefall. The magic part. I keep my eye slightly open to make sure I’m streamlined, move my feet/ankles a little to straighten myself and then before I know it I see the “candycane” and the tenis ball. I hold on to it and with my other hand go for a tag.
This is the first time I actually grabbed a tag, so although I visualized and told myself “put it in the hood” I just didn’t. Somehow I managed to grab it with one hand and pull myself up without letting go of the tag. Quite risky as a no-tag would mean a yellow card. Honestly, I didn’t even think about it until after I surfaced. I pulled myself up feeling happy. 40 meters was a depth I knew I could do easily and I did. I was coming up with my eyes half closed and when I opened them at one point it was like a party, three bright orange neon shirts, six pairs of eyes and a few photographers all around. I felt accompanied, safe and started to think about the most important thing when I surfaced: to breathe. And that’s exactly what I did. Three recovery breaths, took my mask off, looked at the judge, signaled OK and then said I’m OK. Then came the longest 15 seconds…I was holding myself high up the line and my toes were clinging to it underwater. Somehow I started spinning and couldn’t manage to stay facing the judges so had to be tapped to look over when my white card was given. 40m, white card. New national record. I had achieved my goal! I screamed in happiness and felt water splashing all over. Then I quickly tried to move out of the competition area for the next diver. I saw the phone where they were live screaming and screamed “este es por ti Shaqa” hoping my friend could hear me on the other side of the screen.
As soon as I left the square a saw a familiar swimming towards me, Mar! She arrived just five minutes late. She had actually been on the beach on time but there was no way of her coming over without a boat and they had strict times to leave. I still felt so happy to see her and give her a big hug.
Being the fourth athlete to go was perfect, I stayed the rest of the morning enjoying the dives, splashing and celebrating with every single person that went. That’s the beauty of it…no matter how deep you go, everyone knows it’s a personal journey and that’s what’s celebrated after each immersion.
Because we started so early the competition day was basically over by 10 am. After the last dive we all went back to shore where the doctor took our oxygen sat and heart rate…85 bpm. I was definitely not nervous anymore. Calm but hungry! And so was everyone else, so we went near the shop for…brunch? I guess you could call it.
The smile on my face as I walked to the shop and then the restaurant was so big I think my cheeks started hurting at one point. I felt so overwhelmingly content.
Turning of my phone and seeing so much love and support from my Nossas, from my family, from SO many friends from all around the world, felt so loving and made me feel so special. After speaking to my parents and getting food in my tummy I took this whole resting thing very seriously and headed to the hotel pool to read, lounge and nap.