Swimming Towards My Dream

By Desiree Briles

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. My dream is to go to UNC Wilmington and eventually earn my doctorate. I have been to almost every aquarium in North Carolina and have recently visited the Georgia aquarium. Seeing the whale sharks caused my jaw to drop (and it’s currently still on the floor). Scuba diving is something I had only dreamt of. My family and I talked about it forever and had always said we would all get certified. I didn’t really think I ever would, but for my 16th birthday, my parents surprised me with scuba lessons. I was extremely grateful, but there was a little fear that grew inside of me. 

Meeting my Instructor 

We lived pretty close to a local quarry and I always passed it saying I wanted to visit. So, I was not too surprised when I learned my lessons would be there. I went to the dive shop and had Ms. Janet set me up. She is such a lovely person and it was amazing to see someone with such a passion for the sport. I was so excited, I showed off my new equipment to everyone. I’m pretty sure my dad was even more excited than me! 

Then the day finally came to start my private instruction. I was so nervous, I’m pretty sure I asked mom if she could change the date a million times. The whole way up the bumpy driveway I was nauseous. When I finally got to the top of the drive, I met Mike, my instructor. I thought, “oh goodness a Northerner” (just kidding). We got along really well; I immediately felt comfortable and safe with him. It helped that we also both really love dogs. 

I took private classes with Mike and I am so grateful I did. It was nice to be able to go at my own pace. I ended up taking a few extra days on top of what we originally planned because Mike really wanted to make sure that I was going to enjoy scuba diving and have a full understanding and confidence in my skills and abilities. 

The Course and Underwater Anxiousness 

I am a person that has always been anxious about everything. Scuba was something that heightened my anxiety so much more. The book work came easy for me. Starting out in confined water wasn’t too hard; I quickly caught on to the concepts, particularly, how to calm my breathing to maintain buoyancy. However, that all changed when we started going deeper. I struggled to equalize and I started to pay a lot of attention to how I was breathing which caused me to breathe faster. I felt my body tensing up. 

We got to the first training platform to do regulator recovery and I freaked out and forgot to purge.  Mike quickly noticed and coached me through it. I then wanted to attempt the partial flood and clear, but when I flooded my mask, I didn’t clear it all out. My vision was gone and my throat was burning. I signaled to Mike that I wanted to ascend and up we went. 

I was panicking but I didn’t want to get hurt, so I made a controlled ascent and made it to the surface. Mike was with me the entire time and as soon as we hit the surface, he calmed me down. We decided to go back to the training pool to do basics and then call it a day. 

Truthfully, I wanted to quit 

After that day I didn’t want to go back. That night I cried thinking I’d have to change my dream career because I just couldn’t do it. I was going to let myself and my family down. Then I got a text from Mike. He encouraged me and told me how well I composed myself. He told me it was okay to take more time, not everyone grasps it easily. It helped but I still wasn’t convinced. I told myself at the next lesson I will decide if it’s for me or not. 

I got to the quarry and started having a panic attack. Mike could tell right away I was freaking out. He calmed me down and then we went for another swim. As we descended the anxiety came right back. I signaled to ascend and we went up. I told Mike maybe it’s just not for me. I started breaking down and was to the point of tears. He told me that I shouldn’t give up now and maybe I could wait a little longer. 

A solution

Then he thought of the best thing to happen since sliced bread: what if he swam in front of me, facing me the entire time, so I had something to focus on instead of just blue/green water? I really didn’t think it would help at the time, but I was wrong. We did a full dive and my anxiety had shrunk tremendously. I was breathing normally and started to not feel so trapped in myself. I looked around at my surroundings. I followed behind him and watched as the fishes swam by. As Mike would say, “She looked like she was actually enjoying herself”. 

During the next dive, I swam through a helicopter and even wandered away from Mike a little bit. I was amazed to see fish just swimming right beside me. It was incredible. One of my life goals was finally accomplished and I didn’t die! After those dives, all I could dream of was scuba diving in the ocean. 

Advice for others who want to try scuba 

If I didn’t have an instructor like Mike and if I didn’t have such a passion for marine biology I would’ve quit. I really owe 99% of my success to Mike. Don’t tell him though… It’ll go to his head. My advice for someone who wants to try scuba diving but is scared: scuba diving is such an amazing hobby and passion to have. You will get to see things no ordinary person will see. You get to experience life through a whole new perspective. You just have to realize it’s not as dangerous as some make it out to be once you get the proper training. 

This whole experience has shown me that time and time again if you just put your mind to something no matter how difficult it may be, you will succeed. You can ask all my friends and they will be sure to tell you they are tired of hearing about it. When I got my card, that’s all my social media consisted of. I just had a meeting with Mike about advancing my scuba abilities, and I am really excited to see what this will bring. Don’t ever give up on something you love.

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