Freediving is a sport that traces its roots back to ancient times. The ability to overcome the body’s natural urge for oxygen in deep water requires a remarkable level of strength, stamina, determination and commitment that few people possess without many years of training.

To this day I struggle to explain why I compete in this sport. There just seems to be something marvellous about descending to impossible depths in the ocean, and to be completely at peace with the foreign world around you

Applying what I knew about mental toughness training, my performances began to improve quickly. Before long I had a breathhold of over eight minutes, in a pool I could swim 225m on a single breath, and in the ocean I was descending to -80m without anything but the air in my lungs.

My journey had taught me the ability to stay calm under severe pressure, in a sport where there is little hope for the athlete that loses his nerve at the critical moment.

It was 2012 and I had announced a target depth of -100m. Some 20m deeper than I had ever attempted in competition.

Off the surface I had to swim hard to overcome the buoyancy created by the enormous amount of air I had packed in to my lungs. By 20m the weight of the water above me was so heavy that I continued to sink, without the need for more kicking.

At 60m I was surrounded by pitch-black darkness and my throat felt like it was being choked. There is nothing more solitary than sinking along in the ocean. The fear. The brutal discomfort.

Reaching 100m I saw a steel plate lit by high-powered torches. I reached out for a tag and my mind was screaming for me to do it fast. Swimming up I was desperate for air. It had been three minutes and the ocean was still pitch black. I had no frame of reference and terror began to set in. Am I stuck? Am I still at the bottom?

Arriving at the surface, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming. For the next three months I woke up every morning with a brimming smile believing I had achieved the impossible.

Life feels safer when we keep things within our control. But taking risks is an incredibly valuable source of self-discovery. Pushing through an obstacle you learn something new about yourself, builds resilience and boosts self-confidence. It helps you redefine your limits and break free from the average way of thinking.

Article by a former sports psychologist and extreme freediver, Ant Williams

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