Wandsworth freediver Sara Campbell heads to Bahamas to retain world records

Your Local Guardian: Freediver Sara Campbell heads to the Bahamas on April 1 Freediver Sara Campbell heads to the Bahamas on April 1

The Wandsworth woman who shocked the world by setting three freediving world records within 48 hours after only nine months of competition has announced her quest to become the first woman to dive below 100m on just one breath.

Sara Campbell, dubbed Mighty Mouse because of her petite five foot frame, will compete in the Vertical Blue competition from April 1 on Bahamas’ Long Island.

After an incredible year in 2007, Sara claimed three World Records and became World Champion, only to experience an enforced break in training with her mother’s death last summer.

But now, back with new goals, the 36-year-old has been training hard in Egypt to prove she really is the top female in the death-defying sport of breathhold diving.

“It’s impossible to train without 100 percent mental focus and last year that just wasn’t possible,” she said. “I had to sit by and watch as my world records were taken from me, but I am determined to be the first woman to dive to sub-100m in Constant Weight. I know I can do it, it’s not a matter of if but when.

“So far my training dives have all been positive. I still have some way to go, but know I have time and it’s a matter of keeping everything in perspective and taking enough rest. Most athletes go into a panic cycle close to competition, over-training and therefore decreasing their performances.

WOMEN'S BRITISH RECORDS

Static breathhold
5 mins 32
Liv Philip

Dynamic
119 metres
Hannah Stacey

Dynamic No Fins
104 metres
Liv Phillip

Constant Weight No Fins
56 metres
Sara Campbell

Constant Weight
90 metres
Sara Campbell

Free Immersion
81 metres
Sara Campbell

“No matter how behind I am in my schedule, I will never compromise on the rest I allow my body between dives – that’s the time my body gets stronger and more flexible for the next one.”

Freediving dates back 4,500 years to the pearl hunters of the South Pacific. More recently, it can be traced to the film The Big Blue, a documentary about the 'fathers of freediving', Enzo Majorca and Jacques Mayol.

We all carry a natural "dive reflex" which traces our origins as humans back to the oceans millions of years ago.

With training, this reflex response can be increased, slowing the heart and constricting the blood vessels and ensuring oxygen-rich blood is directed to the essential organs of the brain and heart.

There are six disciplines in freediving: three in the pool and three in the "deep".

Static involves athletes holding their breath in a pool without moving for as long as possible. For Dynamic, divers wear a monofin and swim as many lengths of a pool as possible underwater on one breath. Dynamic No Fins also involves swimming lengths of a pool, but the athlete use a modified form of breaststroke.

The "deep" disciplines are Constant Weight where athletes use a monofin to swim vertically down and up, following a rope. Constant Weight No Fins involves swimming breaststroke vertically downwards until your lungs become so compressed, the body becomes heavier than water and begins to sink. Free Immersions is the only discipline in which you can hold on to the rope to pull yourself down and then up.

'MY MIND BEGAN TO BEND WITH STRANGE VISIONS'

When I was a kid I used to see how long I could hold my breath in the bath, writes Jamie Henderson.

Watch Jamie's attempt at freediving

It would usually end with me bursting out of the water and gasping for air after about 30 seconds.

So when I met international freediver Sara Campbell, who can hold her breath for almost six minutes, I hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

Having completed a few minutes of breathing exercises, Sara began a two-minute countdown during which I slowly filled and then completely emptied my lungs before taking one huge final deep breath as the timer started.

As time passed it became increasingly more difficult to keep going as every sinew in my body was urging me to breathe, but I had been told this was a normal reaction.

This panic was not because I was actually running out of air but due to my brain conning my body into thinking I was. Finally I ran out of oxygen and had to let the cold air rush in, much to my relief.

Sara told me I had held my breath for just over a minute. Keen to improve, I started the breathing exercises again.

This time I was less stressed and with Sara calming the panicked urges to take in air, I lay back and concentrated on relaxing each part of my body.

I felt stronger this time and the fear was ebbing away. By focusing on relaxing you forget about the fear of suffocation, it seems.

When I ran out of air, I opened my eyes and took several deep breaths before Sara told me I had done two minutes and 20 seconds.

Much better, I thought. So with one final breathing session I prepared for a new Wandsworth Guardian record. I finally understood the importance of relaxing as there was no panic or fear whatsoever.

As my mind began to bend with a variety of strange visions and images, I snapped back to relative consciousness and breathed in hard.

I had no idea how long it had been - it felt like hours. When Sara told me I had held my breath for 2 minutes and 54 seconds I was astonished - a 200 per cent improvement on my first go.

So should I not make it as a reporter then maybe the balmy waters of the Caribbean and a career as a freediver awaits.

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