So after the DOOM of my last post, I thought I should write something about the exhilaration of being alive. A couple of weeks ago I spoke to some people who have done some extraordinary things by overcoming their fears. One was Sara Campbell, a former yoga teacher who realised she could hold her breath for a really long time, took up free diving and broke three world records in 48 hours when she was still a beginner. Another was Shaun Baker, an extreme kayaker and Glenn Singleman who holds the world record for the highest ever wingsuit jump.
They are living proof that humanity is capable of achieving quite extraordinary things when we don’t let our fear cripple us. None of them are without fear. In fact, Baker talked about having panic attacks and flashbacks to accidents every time he gets into his kayak. But they go ahead and do extraordinary things anyway.
So here’s a couple of their stories:
Baker: ‘I’ve never felt more exhilarated than when I know I’ve cheated death. There are two distinct ways of getting away with it: when you nearly have the accident but don’t and when you have the accident but survive it.
I kayaked over a waterfall in Iceland whose name in English is Waterfall of Thieves because they used to drown thieves under its force. I reached the bottom and was held underwater for more than a minute. I hadn’t taken a full breath before going under and I was being swirled around thinking “I can’t believe I’m going to die this way”. I thought if I was going to die kayaking that it would be quick – smashing my head on a rock. When I surfaced I was so surprised to be alive. It brought it home to me how important my friends are. I had a real feeling that life is special.
Another time I was doing a 19.7 metre waterfall and needed to land between two basalt rocks. I thought I’d cleared it but I hit it, my helmet came off but it didn’t undo the chin strap and it cut my wind pipe. The pain was so intense I thought my head had been ripped off. The only pain I could feel was in my head not my body and I thought “This is how it feels to be decapitated”. I saw the crash helmet and thought “That’s my head”, and the realised I wouldn’t be able to see my head if it was floating away from me. That was a pretty exhilarating moment.’
Campbell: ‘There is one dive that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I had pre-announced a 73 metre dive. You pre-announce how deep you are going to go, so your buddy can wait for you at 20 metres. They need to know how long it is going to take you to get down so they can meet you and hold their breath long enough to bring you back up and carry your weight if you lose consciousness. After you’ve declared your depth, you mark your rope so you can’t dive any deeper.
I was mid-dive when I thought “This is quite a long dive”, but I concentrated on equalising my ears and I stayed calm. When I came back up to the surface my safety diver said she’d been about to pass out. I looked at my depth gauge and I had set it wrong in the computer and done ten metres extra. The world record at that time was 88 metres and I had just done 83 with relative ease. I had achieved that dive without very much effort at all and that was when I realised I was capable of breaking the world record. I had this amazing excitement but I didn’t want anyone to know, because there were other people there who were training really hard to try for the world record.
I had the childish excitement of knowing I’d done something amazing but having to keep it secret.”