FEBRUARY 2001

I lived most of my life terrified of submerging my face under water.  An unfortunate childhood trauma.

I loved being in the water – swimming, boating, skiing – and had developed skills for doing it all without ever dipping my head below the surface.  I swam like Esther Williams and could make the softest water ski landing you’ve ever seen.

Heck, I could even shower without getting my face wet.

 

My avoidance tactics worked well until I felt the call of open-ocean kayaking.  My instructor, unwilling to accept my promise that I’d never roll my kayak, was adamant that I learn self-rescue techniques.  If I wanted an ocean permit, I’d need to overcome my fear of being underwater.

Lots of people had tried to teach me to swim.  Finally, I had a partner who could withstand my terror.  I took baby steps, learning to “roll like a log” all the while choking, thrashing, and clawing till I drew blood.  I graduated to blowing bubbles, then opening my eyes to count objects on the bottom of the pool.

It was progress, but not enough to conquer the ocean in my kayak.  Angered by the hold my fear had on me, I decided to go big or go home: I would become a certified SCUBA diver.

The classroom work was easy.  But it took weeks to don the claustrophobic wet suit without hyperventilating; several more weeks to jump into the pool and leave the weight belt strapped to my waist.  The dive instructor abandoned me as hopeless.

But my partner, having promised not to let me drown, paced back and forth along the edge of the pool as I gradually gained confidence under the water.

Occasionally fear got the best of me and after throwing up through my regulator, I’d rush to the surface for air where my partner would ask if I wanted to be rescued.  “NO!” I’d scream.  “Damn it, I want to get through this!”

When it came time for my open water certification test, we headed to the warm, clear waters of Roatan, Honduras.  My local instructor, Jonathan, was patient and calm.

He took me on daily practice dives until I was ready for the big challenge: dive to the bottom of the ocean, remove all my gear, buddy breathe from one regulator, reassemble my gear, clear my mask & regulator, and surface at an appropriate speed so as not to get the bends.

With my gear laying on the ocean floor, I came face-to-face with a moray eel peering at me from behind the coral. It was a surge of unexpected adrenaline with the potential to derail the entire event.

Jonathan took my face in his hands and signaled me to remain calm.  It worked.  I methodically completed the test, earning my SCUBA certification!

When I broke the surface of the water I ripped the mask and regulator from my face, threw my arms in the air, and screamed to the Universe, “If I can do this, I can do ANYTHING”.

It was a sweet blend of release and jubilation.  Fear no longer controlled me.

There have been times since that I’ve been scared.  And because I’m NOT DONE YET exploring life, I’ll probably be scared again.  But that’s not the point.

The point is crossing the line where fear loses its ability to control.   A photo of me in my scuba gear at the bottom of the ocean hangs in my home as a reminder.

For the record: I have pddled over a hundred miles in the open ocean and never once rolled my kayak.  I love it when life presents ulterior motives for a greater purpose.