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Staying Mentally and Physically Fit for Public Safety Diving
by Josh Norris:
There are many things that have the ability to destroy you as a diver. The two that stand out the most are mental and physical fitness. Having only one of these will allow a diver to skirt by for a while, but eventually it will catch up to them. Arguably, the number one killer of divers is a heart attack. Eating 6000 calories a day when not preparing for a bodybuilding contest is not going to help avoid that at all. As far as mental fitness, leaving your worries on the shore and focusing on your dive is the best thing you could do. Jumping in the water and not being fully prepared mentally would be like showing up to the third date without a condom. It is a mistake that you likely get away with only once. So when it all comes down to it, which is more important?
It seems like every team has that one guy. Normally they have a funny nickname like “Peanut,” or “Tiny.” They are always quick with a funny joke and can cook a mean hot dog. That’s right, the one guy on the team that weighs in at close to 350/400 big pounds of love and paperwork. Weighing this much does not automatically equal being out of shape though. Brock Lesnar apparently weighs 300 pounds and look at everything he has accomplished. Despite this example, there have only been a handful of times that the 350 pound guy earned each ounce in the gym. While there is nothing wrong with allowing such individuals to be part of the team on the surface, there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration. One of the most important is the image that this situation portrays. The first impression of a dive team should not be a young man named Peanut sitting in a lawn chair while on a scene. This may not put the most comforting thoughts into the mind of a Sheriff or Police Chief as he or she walks by to see how things are going.
Training is another big hurdle for the teams when dealing with divers who are out of shape. Less will be accomplished overall if the majority of the team is not able to focus on the mission due to being tired. Many teams want to see the time investment of the members to ensure the monetary investment by the organization is being used wisely. Part of that time investment should be some physical training. While every diver does not need to be a champion triathlete; there is nothing stopping members of the dive team from dropping a few pounds and hitting the gym four or five times a week. If there is just no time in the schedule for the individual to make this happen, then how do they have time for the dive team in general? There must also be an ability to get one’s self out of a bad situation and possibly have to rescue a fellow member. How could this be accomplished if the physical fitness level is atrocious? Get back to the gym and do a few extra pushups for the team. Maybe run a mile for each member each week. Once you are physically fit, mental fitness may become easier.
How can one possibly be mentally prepared for the possibility of pulling an entire family out of a submerged vehicle? It could be compared to going to combat for the first time in that there is no actual method of preparation. The only thing that could help is training hard and meeting the situation head on. Some of the teams we have trained with have a designated chaplain that will help with issues within the dive team. Others have a “scenario roster” of situations that certain individuals just do not want to be a part of. For instance, there are a few divers that want nothing to do with pulling a drowned infant from the water. The important thing to realize is that there is nothing wrong with that. It also does not equate to someone having a weakness. It simply means that this individual has made the adult decision to not put themselves in that situation. While infants may be a no-go, that same individual may not have any problem with recovering adults.
Becoming mentally prepared for some of the darker sides of public safety diving can be a bumpy road for some. There are teams that ask new recruits to tour the morgue and just be around a dead body for a while. For those who have not gone through this exercise, it may have a more drastic impact than one may initially think. Being ready for dead bodies is only one aspect of the job though. Consider for a moment that if you, as a diver, were to destroy or alter evidence in a case where it could set a murderer free. It may mean that a missing person will stay missing. The world is not a perfect place and it could happen. Having the ability to understand and take that risk is a big part of being a successful ERDI Team member.
Which is more important?
So which is more important? You have to decide for yourself. Getting all of the training in the world will not help an individual who simply cannot perform the tasks under stress and does not have their head in the game. Conversely, the most head strong person is equally worthless to a team if he or she cannot be relied on to physically make it through a dive. A combination of mental and physical fitness must be achieved to be an effective public safety diver. There is a seemingly endless supply of folks who want to join a dive team for the t-shirt. There should be no place for those folks within the community.
Josh Norris – Owner/Instructor – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC