I have spent the last 9 months picking up the pieces of my battered shell of a self while still trying to maintain a successful life. I will tell you this… there is nothing in the world that can prepare you for the death of a parent.
I had been toying with the idea of knocking out a few national records in January this year, because I had done so in training in December and felt I would smash 60m. The 15th of January, my Manager and I were on our way to a tank shift when I saw a message from my step brother asking me to call my mom. It’s weird when you know you’re about to receive really bad news and find yourself making the call anyway. The first thing my sister said to me was “ Talya I need you to not freak out, Dad’s got 24hours”
That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t freak out. I took the information in, and went straight into focus mode because January 22nd I would be attempting my first record. “My Dad would want me to keep going”… That is the lie I told myself so I could keep on going. My Intermediate Instructor course would also start on the 18th so I needed to stay calm, and focused through all this in order to be successful. I put a smile on my face and told myself to be brave. I found myself stepping out of class regularly because I couldn’t breathe unless I cried for five minutes. I went to work in the middle of all this because I needed money.
Then my AIDA judge backed out the day before my attempt. And I still put my head down and went ahead to do the records. They were all I could see. On the 22nd I find myself lying on my back, breathing up to do a national record attempt, but there is nothing calm about this attempt. Normally at 1 minute to official top, I can turn off and focus on my dive, but this time I couldn’t. I made the dive but found myself shaking like a leaf the whole way down. I remember repeating to myself, “Just pack it away”. I hit 55m and like a storm, unavoidable, the honesty of the situation hit me. For media purposes, I had said I had a Hypoxic event. I didn’t… At 55m I had a panic attack because My Dad was gone and I didn’t want to be 55 meters under water. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but it was an “anywhere but here” moment. This is where I consider myself so lucky for surrounding myself with incredible safety. I recognized what was happening and signaled my safety and mentor, Chris Bustad, something is wrong, I need a ride up. The second he grabbed me, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I wasn’t alone anymore. He pulled me into his chest and motored me up to safety. Once on the surface, I felt safe and taken care of by both Chris and Dan Semrad, who had been my other safety.
Photo Cred: Chris Adair
But grief has a funny way of clouding my judgment. I was meant to do another 4 attempts so my static attempt was still going to happen the next day. Normally I can hit 3 minutes without contracting but that day my first strong contraction hit at 1:30 . I caved 2min short of the record.
Photo cred : Daniel Semrad II
It was then, where I had asked for a bit of privacy, I found myself seated at the water’s edge. It hit me like a rock. Like someone had been holding a blowtorch to the cavity where my heart should be. Pain like you’ve never felt before. My dad, my fucking hero, was gone and no amount of freediving record attempts would bring him back.
I remember posting about it, and of course everyone was really sweet and understanding about it. But there was one person, an old friend, who basically commented that I was a fucking idiot…and he was right. I have always prided myself in my mental game, because freediving doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to be honest with myself about how I’m feeling. My first instructor always said. If you can’t be honest with yourself then you don’t belong in the water. I teach this concept every time I teach a course and yet, I took my issue underwater with me. If I didn’t have the safety in place that day… I know I would not have made it back up.
We all make mistakes in life, but in freediving they can cost you your life. Be honest with yourselves and make sure you always have good safety. On that note, I would like to take a moment to thank the following people who have looked after me and continue to do so.
Daniel Semrad II, Daniel Flood, Chris Bustad, Derek Marshall Dunning, and Maik Diercks. Without you boys, I would not be here. I love you all.
Be honest, be safe