53: The Reluctant Scuba Diver

53: The Reluctant Scuba Diver

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

The Reluctant Scuba Diver

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

~Anaïs Nin

I have a fear of drowning. I think it must be the worst way to die: kicking and clawing to get to the surface, only to fail and start choking on water while still fighting to get one more breath. Despite this fear, I love swimming, but I tend to stick to the surface.

So when my dad told me that to be a marine biologist, which was my dream, I needed to be a scuba diver, I was very reluctant. Scuba diving had never crossed my mind. The idea of going deep under the water with weights dragging me down and a nonrenewable air source on my back was very scary. However, my dad would not take “no” for an answer. He found a Discover Scuba class through a local dive shop and signed us up.

The first time I went scuba diving was in a community pool. I wasn’t scared because we were only eight feet deep, and I knew I could easily get to the surface if necessary. It was fun being able to swim around the bottom without having to come up for air. It was not as much fun seeing all the things that gather at the bottom of a public pool.

Since I enjoyed the overall experience, my dad signed us up for classes to get our certification. He pushed me to go to every class, whether it was in the classroom or the pool. I didn’t like having extra homework on top of my college coursework, but I got through it.

I really struggled with removing my mask and regulator. I performed the removing and clearing of the mask perfectly, both in the pool and in the ocean, but the sting of salt water made me want to never do it again. Removing and then retrieving my regulator did not go as well. I was forced to remove my regulator from my mouth, watch it float away, and then grab it. The best way to do this is to lean to the side the regulator is on (typically the right), sweep your arm across your body, and capture the regulator in the process.

When it came time to do this skill in the pool, I was dreading the moment the dive master signaled me to perform. As my connection to my air tank disappeared beyond my line of sight, the panic began to set in. It grew stronger when I swept my arm and came up with nothing. I tried again, but to no avail. My body was screaming for air, and I scrambled to find something. I looked for my backup, but I couldn’t find that either.

I gave up and bolted to the surface, which is exactly what I was not supposed to do. The dive master followed me, somehow convinced me to go back down, and had me do the skill again. The second time and during the certification, I did not push it as hard so it never fully left my sight. It was enough to pass. I got my Open Water Diver certification in May 2010.

Even after certification, my dad had to push me to go on dives to keep my skills up to date. I really didn’t like to spend my weekends getting up early to jump into cold water and see practically nothing but underwater plants. I was so bored during a dive at Shadow Cliffs, which is the local pond, that I mentally wrote a story about a friendly swamp monster that lived in that lake.

However, one trip would change how I felt about diving. It was a safety stop on a dive in Catalina. I was resting at fifteen feet to prevent any potential decompression sickness while my dad looked on from above because the air in his BCD vest (buoyancy control device) had pulled him to the surface. A school of fish circled me, and then quickly disappeared. A sea lion passed by. The fish returned and vanished a minute later. The sea lion swam by a little closer. The fish came back again, but this time, they stayed behind me. Another minute passed. The sea lion swam straight for me. I thought, Please don’t attack me! I’m not trying to come between you and your food. A foot from my face, the sea lion turned and swam away. My three minutes were up, and it was time to exit the water. To this day, this has been my best and most favorite safety stop. Shortly after this experience, I bought underwater cameras, both video and still.

Since then, I have had many scuba adventures. I earned a few more certifications, including Deep Diver, Rescue Diver, Nitrox Diver, and Zombie Apocalypse Diver. I have navigated through kelp, bumped into sharks, and seen all kinds of fish and underwater life. It has not always been easy. I know what it’s like to have an anxiety attack at eighty feet below, to look at a blank screen on my computer while still going down, and to feed the fish after.

Out of all my trips, one experience outshines the rest. For incredible adventure and lots of marine life on every dive, there’s only one place to go: the Galápagos Islands. The park fees make it a bit expensive, but it is worth every penny. We dove four times a day for most of our weeklong trip. We saw hammerheads, Galápagos sharks, and black-and white-tipped sharks, but nothing dangerous like a Great White. Moray eels poked their heads out of their hiding places in the rocks. Schools of fish migrated between feeding areas while schools of rays swam past and over us. We snorkeled with penguins and dolphins, and we witnessed marine iguanas feeding off the algae at twenty feet. There is nothing like diving in the Galápagos.

If my dad hadn’t pushed me at the beginning and forced me to face my fears, I wouldn’t have these amazing experiences and stories to tell. I had to learn how to calm myself when I did panic so I could handle the problem in front of me, which was usually that I was just freaking out, had momentarily misplaced my dive buddy, or was struggling with my equipment. I learned how to breathe, to quell the panic, and to see new worlds without ever leaving the planet.

~Sarah Reece

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