Midwest roots helped me win Gold.
5 minutes 30 seconds underwater on one breath for the Gold Medal in Static Freediving at the first trial of the Catalan Championship.
Feb 12-13, 2022.
As you are warming up, your heartbeat is loud. The chatter in your mind is really loud. They drag you across the pool to your starting lane and the countdown is really loud - they're screaming it through a megaphone:
"THREE MINUTES UNTIL OFFICIAL TOP......TWO MINUTES!!.....ONE MINUTE THIRTY!
(...and now you have 30 seconds to take your last gulps of air and turn over face down in the water. If you go before the Official Top or after your 30s window, you're disqualified. )
When you turn over your nervous system is on overload. I've been bundled up in a neoprene wetsuit that's as thick as your finger but after sitting in the water for 45min I was shaking from the cold. The second you turn over, the cold water of the pool hitting your bare face is almost shocking. Your eyes are closed but you are seeing flashes of light. Your heart is banging...
And then suddenly, in the snap of a finger, all that noise...just goes silent.
. . . . . .
I'm transported to Illinois where I'm standing ankle-deep in powdery snow. More giant puffy flakes are softly dancing down from the sky. As I look up, they hit my cheeks and eyelashes and immediately melt. The Illinois winter feels cold on my face.
There is a grove of oaks in front of me, their gnarly, crooked arms are reaching out and catching the snow. With all their leaves gone, there is a perfect view of that VAST Midwest sky, although it's forlorn and grey now. There's a clearing to my left and behind me is a home where I know it's warm inside.
I know this place well.
The air is so crisp and fresh, and the sound of the snow falling is such a deep silence it's roaring in my ears.
I could stay here in the peace of the falling snow forever.
Hemingway once said "no man is ever alone at sea", referring to the abundance of sea life that fills the ocean. Well, an Illinois forest is full of creatures too. Just sit silently and they will scurry/hunker out.
Without notice, a fox tiptoes across the clearing...
it sees me but because I am still, it continues sniffing and listening for mice.
The silence is broken by the hoot of an owl calling out across the greyness.
Peace and greyness.
with flashes of a fox and oak trees and the snow.
roaring silence in the cold.
this is the river valley.
this is Illinois.
this is the Midwest.
this is home.....
Now they are tapping me on the shoulder and doing safety checks. The bubble pops and my mind is back in Spain in the pool, they're speaking Spanish from above the water, and now I'm concentrating. The whole daydream only lasted maybe 2 minutes...but this wonderful distraction was all I needed to lead me through the worst part of the dive.
It's a common misconception that when holding your breath so long,
the end must be agonizing.
The truth is, the only part where you suffer is in the beginning when you aren't relaxed yet. The beginning, when your flight response is still in full gear, you question what you are doing here, and when the mind chatter is so loud...
If you can achieve silence, the back half is gravy.
Just find me something that distracts me through those first 3.5 minutes...
I finished strong, just listening to my body which was having strange sensations but I felt very relaxed. The second half of the dive was a BEAUTIFUL clean dive!
When I got out of the pool, the Spanish champion who can normally whoop me was there to give me a hug...apparently, she was too cold and came up early. I take the gold today.
Growing up in the Midwest as a softball player means I swim like a drowning giraffe, but if the competition is about mental stamina in the cold....I was bred for that!
Where your mind goes is a surprise every time. And sometimes it goes nowhere and just stays blank. But in the face of cold - and this time it was so cold! - anyone from the Midwest is capable of closing their eyes and conjuring up one of those snow globe scenes with gorgeous oak forests that look like a scene out of Bambi...
My wetsuit is technically sand cammo but I am going to say it's snow cammo from now on (yes, that's me in the picture).
Illinois for the gold in this cold February competition.
My time of 5 minutes and 30 seconds, just 11 seconds behind my personal record,
is a strong declaration of my fitness for this season-opening championship.