I have always been a firm believer in sharing with and encouraging the next generation when it comes to our incredible world of diving. I truly feel they are the key to our sport’s future (I actually hate to refer to scuba as a sport as to me it’s so much more than that), and having worked on occasion over the past few years with the University Of Toledo Dive Club on their travel program, I have always offered my help and support in any way that I could. So when they approached me a couple of months ago to participate in their attempt to break a world record in diving, I didn’t hesitate and instantly enlisted my family also.
The record was for longest continual dive by a group of divers in a confined water environment – essentially, a relay of one or more divers submerged underwater in a tank, trading off so that someone was breathing underwater at all times. The current record was 6 ¾ days, and UT Dive Club was going for 7. This was to be achieved by shifts of divers serving anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 ½ hours at a time, adhering to standards set by OSHA and the University as well as Guinness. Each time slot required 3 divers on duty at all times – the diver themselves, a standby diver for emergencies ready to get in the water and a DPIC (designated person in charge) who was first aid and CPR trained and the go-to person ultimately responsible for that shift.
Our dive site for the next week was only 4 foot long by 4 foot wide and 4 3/4 feet deep – anyone slightly claustrophobic was doomed
It was not until I went to the trial meeting the week before that I realized what I had let myself in for. We met at a warehouse in downtown Toledo, where the father of the founding member and former President of UT Dive Club, Clayton Moore, and his company Syntech Products, had created the purpose-built tank. A hard plastic container supported by a metal frame, our dive site for the next week was only 4 foot long by 4 foot wide and about 4 ¾ feet deep – anyone slightly claustrophobic was doomed and I have to admit both me and my children walked out of there wondering if this could actually be pulled off.
Leading up to the event, I honestly couldn’t find much that I could personally do, but I shared on social media networks, recruited some local diving friends and of course signed ourselves up wherever spaces needed filled. My shift didn’t begin until late Wednesday night – 3 ½ days into the event, but the club kept the public informed via a live webcam streaming 24/7, continuously posted on Facebook and emailed regularly.
I followed their progress as well as their challenges. They faced a variety of them in that time, including a leaking tub, visibility dropping to almost zero and cold water with divers on the border of hypothermia. Nine hours into the event, the webcam failed, crucial to Guinness verifying the validity of the record, and the students regrouped and started again. The students handled all of this like champions as each issue presented itself, and with a little outside help things were clicking like clockwork by the time I arrived for my duty. The University allowed access to hot water to keep the chill off, the leak had been fixed, and an innovative student Joe Miller had now created a purpose a built pump & filter, so I was fortunate enough to enjoy reasonable temperatures in crystal clear water, all the while being recorded on one I.T. student’s hand-built computer and webcam brought in for that crucial proof!
The dive tank – our dive site for the week at UT
Walking into the event for the first time in the middle of the night, the sight was quite unique. The tub was in the middle of the student union building on campus, surrounded by dive flags, banners, rows of tanks and gear provided by the local dive shop, Aqua Hut. Next to the paraphernalia, was a table with information about the club and sign-up forms for anyone interested in knowing more about them or to sign up for a Try Scuba event they were holding the following week. Other than a couple of custodians, and a dedicated faculty member, Margo, that had volunteered to oversee safety and compliance from the University’s standpoint, the only people here were the few brave souls that had volunteered for the night’s watch. Blankets, donated treats, pizza boxes & empty coffee cups were strewn about between the small group of brothers & sisters who ranged anywhere from being splayed across a couch catching a well-earned nap to those who were faithfully taking their turn carrying the torch of the graveyard shift. There were a dedicated number of people in this group that were the core of making this record a reality and the evidence that they had set up camp here for the week was more than apparent.
I showed up exhausted from my own week’s events which can be a multitude of things when juggling running a business and being a mom, and this week had been a particularly arduous one. I have to admit that by the time I began my 2am shift knowing I had to serve in one capacity or another for the next 4 hours, and another full day already packed with commitments was shortly ahead, I was dreading it. But I took my place as I said I would, grateful that this was the only slot I was signed up for.
My teenagers and one of their friends took the first three places as divers in the water, each taking about 30 minutes each, while I assumed the role of standby diver and my husband DPIC. Being kids, they each got comfortable quickly and easily and we played hangman via the slate attached to the tub, while I oversaw my wards. During that time, my husband and I also chatted to the various students that were scattered around the union building. I had not previously met any of the members that were there that night, and at first the exchanges were a bit awkward, but all being divers of various degrees and levels, we quickly found an obvious topic to discuss and once that began, the conversations flowed easily. I quickly discovered what amazing, excited and dedicated company we were in, and by the time it was my turn to get in the water, I was honored to do my part for this club and their efforts.
Diving here could get lonely – and dare I say even challenging – very quickly
It turned out that one other unforeseen thing had happened during the week – the duty of each standby diver had spontaneously taken on new meaning. While the official purpose was for the standby to be perched at the top of the tank, geared up and ready to jump in and take over should the submerged diver need to get out immediately, or perform vital assistance if things went terribly bad, the role had become just as much one of moral support. Each standby diver also assumed the role as their connection to the surface, a friend when you are otherwise completely alone. Imagine being submerged in dive gear in a container that is not even big enough for you to lay down in, and imagine that for a couple of hours – sometimes cold and without visibility beyond your own hands, with no marine life or anything else to see other than plastic walls. Now do that multiple times over the course of a week, while juggling work, studies and trying to get sleep somewhere in the middle! Add in the additional details on top of the diving on a rotating shift, and one begins to understand the enthusiastic claims of “a few hours sleep in three days…” “Diving” here could get lonely – and dare I say even challenging – very quickly, and that little slate tethered to the platform above, your connection to a person whose sole object is to oversee your well-being and safety, does honestly become a valued lifeline during that time.
My standby diver had just come in on duty and I did not have a chance to introduce myself before we each took our respective positions. After an hour and a half of slate hangman with my kids, I did not want to play again. I settled down in the bottom of the tank, playing with my breathing techniques (a good diver is always learning, right?) and figured I would while away my time with just my thoughts. After a hectic week at home and work, frankly vegging out with just the sound of my bubbles was not unwelcome. Suddenly the slate came down – “Hi, I’m Katie – all ok?” I scribbled back to let her know I was and politely declined her offer for word games explaining that at 330am my vocabulary was about out. I let her know she did not need to feel like she had to entertain me and it would be ok if she just wanted to chat to her peers above. After all, I was only serving one hour, and this really wasn’t as bad as I expected. But Katie had been in this position several times already and was not leaving me alone and so the slate dropped down again. “We’re up here talking about sharks right now, what’s your coolest experience with one?” Even though I was fine, I had to admit knowing what was going on outside the tank, and being able to be part of the conversation did make things a little more comforting. As what often happens with strangers who have nothing in common but find quickly they share all they need to once they establish the other is a diver, I found myself bonding with Katie after a few exchanges via the slate we were passing between us. The time flew by and before I knew it I got the signal to get out. Katie was trading spots with me, now assuming the role of the submerged diver, and so I never really got to meet her that day or thank her for her excellent company that really did make all of the difference, but even now I still feel an inexplicable connection to her.
The future of diving was alive and well and in excellent hands in my own backyard
I left the University building the early hours of Thursday morning changed. As I said, I’ve always believed we need to mentor, encourage and share with the younger generation, and I have worked with various organizations on their travel arrangements, and even conducted some presentations in schools and colleges, but that night took on a deeper meaning for me and as I posted on Facebook the next day, I truly felt the future of diving was alive and well and in excellent hands in my own backyard.
I had left my number in case anyone needed their shift covering, and low and behold, Saturday morning my phone rang. While 25 divers ended up taking part in the attempt, there was a much smaller core group of people whose names appeared over and over on the sign-up sheet in various capacities throughout that week and sheer and overwhelming exhaustion was now kicking in. I hated that I couldn’t cover anything that day due to previously made plans, but my family and I stopped by that evening on our way to an appointment to check in on everyone and drop off some goodies to hopefully boost morale. While there, I signed up for some extra shifts that needed covering the next day to provide some relief. The President of the Club, Rob Schuster, was looking a bit disheveled at this point, having just come in after finishing a full day at work, and Clay was propped up in a chair with a winter hat pulled over his eyes, mouth wide open and gently snoring after covering all the previous night and that morning. Yet Rob, and the other members there, mostly the same faces I had met Thursday morning, were still smiling, ever polite and enthusiastic. I was so sorry I couldn’t stay but took comfort that I could at least do something Sunday – if they could hold on that long, which the group assured me there was no doubt they could.
When i arrived Sunday afternoon, things looked better – Clay was rested and animated, and I was taking a couple of hours for Rob so I figured he would get a break for a while too. Conversations across the room were lively and spirited. After a few hellos, my son hit the tank as the submerged diver and I once again took on both my motherly and diver duties as his standby. Sitting here, it was instantly evident that day time was much different. As well as a larger number of family and friends providing support and keeping them company, the student union saw a fair bit of traffic from unsuspecting or curious passers-by and it was here that part of the reason the club had decided to take on the world record was coming to fruition and from my personal perspective, why this extraordinary band of students are THE hope to the future of diving.
Try scuba and interest in becoming certified sign up sheets
As well as for what sounded like a fun and crazy thing to do together, the UT Dive Club also arranged the event with the intention of creating an awareness about their existence to fellow students, and to hopefully even get some people to try scuba on one of their demo days or talk about certification. No matter how exhausted, how many hours they had served in the past 6 days, every one of them gave a bright smile, and told each inquisitor enthusiastically what they were doing and answer as many questions as they could – including some really off the wall ones! They would then proceed to encourage them to sign up on one or more of the sheets depending on the situation and interest displayed. Their obvious love of diving was infectious and the sheets had been filling with an impressive number of names the past few days and it was clear now why.
This passionate group had achieved something none of us older, experienced diving professionals have even began to scratch the surface of
After about 3 hours, my son and I completed our shift alternating between diving and standby, and we said our goodbyes once more. This time leaving not only with an even deeper appreciation for this band of young divers, but pondering if they even knew just what they were achieving. I have attended several meetings the past year or so by industry veterans and respected gurus who each time gather to discuss how to keep our beloved “sport” alive and how to get the younger crowd to choose diving above all other forms of entertainment and/or career paths. Here, in that small building on an unremarkable college campus, in Toledo Ohio, this passionate group had achieved something none of us older, experienced diving professionals have even began to scratch the surface of: they piqued the interest of literally dozens upon dozens of young adults and gathered a list of those who were now genuinely interested in learning more or had decided right there and then that becoming a diver was what they now wanted to do. And these people were all found by chance or circumstance walking through a college building in the space of one week on a small budget and with only the support of a few local businesses – it was incredible to watch.
I did return to the University one more time during the event. I was drawn like a moth to flame at this point, wrapped up in the magic that these students created and while I was not needed to relieve anyone else, I had to see it through. And so in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I made my pilgrimage to watch the countdown on the computer with them as they broke the record. I have had some memorable New Year’s Eve’s in my lifetime, but nothing has come close to the 10, 9, 8…chant that night. While conscious I may be crashing their party, I was greeted like an old friend and we all embraced and shared in the excitement as the University of Toledo Dive Club became the proud new holders of the World record. I cannot even put into words how that felt, so I will not even try, but I hope you can imagine it. I stayed a while longer as divers switched in and out, adding 3 more hours to the previous record, and bid adieu exhilarated for them and all that they achieved.
UT Dive Club World Record countdown and webcam
Though I thought it would, the story as it turns out, didn’t end there. The next day I was invited out to be part of the celebration on campus – my children and I were, as they pointed out, part of the 25 divers after all and my company had supported the event. We enjoyed once again the excitement and enthusiasm this group radiates, which was now elevated even further by the fact that all their hard work had paid off and also by the presence of numerous news channels and reporters. While the various club officers were interviewed, I learned that the record was formally held by a group of divers in Brazil. Not only had this club brought the record to Ohio, but they brought it to the USA! The story had been slowly spreading over the past week and by now not only had every local channel and newspaper featured their story at least twice, but it had captured attention across the country. I have since seen news clips from local channels in states such as Texas as well as on USA Today and Today.com. In addition to shots of the UT divers in the water, and interviews about what they were doing and why, the anchors were sitting around afterwards discussing scuba diving! When was the last time diving received such national attention? It is just astounding what this club has achieved in the space of a week.
I wished everyone farewell, exchanged Facebook connections and made each of them promise to contact me if there was anything I could ever do to help them with the Dive Club or in their own personal journeys, and I meant it from the bottom of my heart. I was pleasantly surprised though, that the first call came just 24 hours later. It turned out that they had so many sign-ups for their “Try Scuba” event they had been promoting during the world record attempt that they didn’t have enough instructors to deliver! Can you imagine?!
Symbiosis in its finest and purest form!
And so Thursday night (yes, apparently 9pm – 11pm on a week night is the perfect time for a discover scuba session when you’re young!), I arrived once more, with gear in tow. The line of people ready and waiting for the doors to open was unbelievable! I don’t really get the chance to teach much anymore – my regular dive-related job leaves me little time, but I have to tell you I had an absolute blast. The ages of participants ranged from college freshman to experienced faculty members, and every one of them talked about how “awesome” and “cool” diving is. Not everyone on the sign-up sheets for Try Scuba showed up that night, but 37 people did. 37! 5 went on to enroll for certification classes that night including Margo who while performing her supervising duties each night the week before, became intrigued and after the Discover Scuba realized what it is that possesses us all. After shutting down the pool at the end of the evening, we all met up at one of the university’s local hotspots, where Margo thanked us all by ensuring she bought the first round for every one of us eligible to partake! And so, the traditions live!
While it was much more than five that expressed an interest in taking classes, some just couldn’t do it financially right now. The club is eager to do what they can to overcome that, and I will be continuing to work with them to see what we can do to make it happen for more, through my company and possibly other connections as well as fundraisers. You may ask why invest your time and money in a bunch of students – even ones as special as this group – after all, it’s not the demographics the dive industry is after. They don’t have the disposable income a business built purely on leisure needs to survive and prosper, and this is all certainly true. But as I see it, this is a group of innovative young people, working hard to soon be professionals themselves, and one day they will meet that criteria. They have been sung to by the Sirens to one degree or another and I am sure for most, diving will become part of their lives. It may not be any time soon, and it may not come back to my own business, but the future of our sport is something I believe we should all contribute to and foster – whether we are a professional or simply a fan.
Countless seeds were planted this past week, not just in the unsuspecting students passing through their school building, but also in the homes of people of all ages across the nation. We have much to teach, to give and to share with the next generation, but we also have an awful lot we can learn from them too! It’s symbiosis in its finest and purest form!
UT Dive Club world record attempt, some of the supporting divers and business