Watching an accident on video, or reading about it, is a completely different thing compared to rescuing someone from certain death. In E3 of the Alchemy Podcast, Thibault Guignes spoke to us about the outcome of witnessing two almost deadly freediving accidents in a row.
I had a bit of a rough year. I was diving with some people, and two times in less than a year, I had to handle really dangerous freediving accidents. Even though in the end everyone ended up recovering well, it scared me a lot. And you know, sometimes you just practice, you think you are aware of the risk and suddenly when you are confronted with it, you realize that "oh yes, someone could die". And even if you are very careful about what you do, things happen sometimes and you need to be ready to deal with the consequences. And I'm still in this process, it took me a while to sort my head out throughout this year, but now I feel I'm ready to deal with the consequences of what could happen to me or to someone.
I became a top athlete pretty late in my life. Before that, I was always watching those TV shows with skydivers or people doing extreme things, like with Alex Honnold in Free Solo, and sometimes you see that people have died doing this. And you're like, "how do they deal with this”? These two accidents really made me question “do I really want to do this”? And yeah, it took me a little while to figure it out, but the answer is “yes”. And as heartless as it can sound now, I feel that if something would happen and somebody would die, I would be ready to deal with the consequences.
Now I know it can happen, in the past maybe I have been arrogant as well. When you are still new, you know you do a lot of impressive things and everything goes well all the time. And sometimes you witness from very far away an incident or an accident. And you're like "oh, this will never happen to me" because I do things right. And of course, we think that what we do is the best, otherwise, we would do it differently. So we are convinced, "okay, I'm doing the best I can". We are arrogant, we are not being aware enough. I was still in the mindset of “it's never gonna happen to me or to someone diving with me”. I was wrong.
And, actually, I had an accident myself a couple of years ago, it was a pretty serious one. But this didn't mess with my mind at all. Two months later, I was competing, doing new PBs, new national records, and diving deeper than ever in my life. I was doing amazing dives, enjoying them, and not being scared at all. But witnessing someone else was a different deal. Both times I did the rescues thinking I was doing it on someone who was dead.
After those, it was a bit tough to start diving again and to find some motivation to go deeper. I would still enjoy diving and even diving deep, but always in my comfort zone or at least in my former comfort zone. But with this mindset, my comfort zone became shallower and shallower kind of naturally, because I was not in the right place in my mind anymore. Now that I think I made peace with this, I'm starting to enjoy my water sessions a lot again and to perform much better again, without any expectations, but just finding a piece of the older me.
Regarding the two accidents, I handled them differently both times. The second time I had more experience with how to do it, but the first time I had to take distance from my buddy who had the accident. Not because I was angry or mad at the person, I needed to have some distance and to dive with other people, maybe the people I had dived with for many years, always safely. And I'm not saying that this person wasn't diving safely or anything, I just needed some distance. The second time was a bit different as it was not my training buddy. It was a very dear friend, but we were not training together. I happened to be there and to help in the process. So, in that case, I didn't need that distance.
Βut yeah, after the first accident, I needed to work as well and do things for myself. So it was a good time to start teaching, as this would keep the contact with the water, but without having to sink it through yet. And after I stopped teaching for a bit in the winter, I started going back in the water for myself, slowly, but still with apprehension. Αnd just when I was starting to get a bit confident again, the second one happened, 10 days before the World Championship. Those World Championships in Kas for me were three very long weeks. I was counting the days. I was doing my best to try to keep a bit of energy and hope in the training thinking, "okay, maybe you can still do something at least decent, compared with what you can do". And it didn't really work out.
Now I think I made peace with both at the same time, finally. Let's see, the future will tell, but I've been diving consistently enough for almost a couple of months since I came back from the World Championships and I'm starting to feel very good and confident again in the water.