I have been a swimmer for most of my life. I swam when the shot of a gun started a race and Mark Spitz was the immortal god of swimming. I went on through high school and college teaching the sport I loved more than anything. So when the chance to learn to scuba dive crossed my path, I was ecstatic. I was teaching elementary music at the time when my principal announced to the staff that the Navy was looking for 10 school teachers from Bay County, FL to certify in diving. The program was to be known as, “The Teacher Aquanauts.”
The school board wanted teachers to start implementing more science into the classrooms and thought this program would be an exciting way to introduce kids to the underwater world. The teachers were informed that there were many applicants with an extensive interview process. But I was ready and confident for anything thrown my way. After the lengthy application process and rigorous interviews, my goal was obtained and I made the official Teacher Aquanaut team.
After months of class work and countless Physical Training Evolutions (the Navy’s funny way of saying exercise), it was time to hit the water. Everything was perfect; our scuba gear was assembled, dive buddies paired up, and the water was a perfect temperature. So why was my heart beating out of my chest? Why were my palms sweating profusely? What could possibly be wrong? All I could think was, “This cannot be fear that I am feeling! I am a good swimmer for goodness sake! This was a really difficult program to get into. You can’t let your students down! What the heck is wrong with me?” Yes, that old, unwanted friend we call fear had paid a visit, and slowly started creeping in. I literally did not want to step foot into the water. In order to conquer this initial fear, I actually visualized myself as a professional Navy diver and mentally rehearsed all the classroom training that we had done all the previous weeks. With that done, I was a little more confident and ready to give diving a try.
As we descended down into the unknown deep, uh.... pool that is, I could not get over the fact that I was able to breathe underwater. I know that sounds odd- after all, Scuba stands for: Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, but the thought of breathing underwater freaked me out. I kept feeling that natural urge to push myself to the surface and take a breath, something I had been trained to do my whole life as a swimmer. In diving, however, going to the surface can be very dangerous, even deadly. Especially if you hold your breath (something one naturally does when scared). I didn’t like the feeling of all the heavy equipment on my back, or having to equalize my ears the further we descended into the water. I wanted so badly to say, “I am sorry, you picked the wrong person for this program. I want out!” But pride has always had a history with me, and quitting has never been an option. So I felt the fear, and did it anyway.
Feeling fear is not as important as how you react to it. When I felt the fear and panic coming on, I relaxed my breathing and self talked my way out of the problem. I kept a constant mantra to “relax” over and over, until my body was commanded by my mind to do it. Easier said than done when one is in such a different and unforgiving environment, i.e. high stress.
I finally got the hang of it and went on to do several open water dives. Do I like diving now? No. Not at all. I’d rather sing in front of a million people. But I did it and actually motivated a lot of kids to want to try it out. The Teacher Aquanauts lasted only two years, but they were the best two years of my life. Diving not only gave me a new found respect for the underwater world, but also taught me to “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”
Hooyah to that!
Conquer your Fears and Lean into it!