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Christina Saenz de Santamaria

Remember holding your breath at the bottom of the pool to see how long you could stay under – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi? Imagine being able to stay under for 360 Mississippis!  Free-diver Christina Saenz de Santamaria can do just that, and in deep underwater conditions that shrink her lung capacity.

If you’ve seen the movie The Big Blue, you will understand a little more about free-diving. This is a sport where athletes hold their breath while descending unaided into the depths of the ocean. The sport has roots that are centuries old. Archeological evidence shows that people have been free-diving since the fifth century BC – not as a sport, but to collect pearls and sponges.

At 32, Christina is a star in the free-diving world and holds two Australian records. She is soon to attempt a world-record dive of 89 metres, as well as a tandem world-record of 100 metres with her husband and coach, Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria.

In 2011, using only her arms and a breath of air, Christina pushed herself to the depths of 60 metres, breaking the Australian record by a little over four metres. Only 20 minutes later, she broke another Australian record by using a monofin (which looks like a mermaid’s tail), to push herself down to 60 metres, breaking this record by over six metres.

Originally from Sydney, Christina was a diving instructor and is now a professional free-diver. She gets to explore a world that not many of us dare to enter. A realm that is far too deep and dangerous for the untrained.

She says that free-diving is not a hard sport and that it allows her to get in touch with humanity’s roots. Christina believes that we have mammalian reflexes built into us that allow us to be able to free dive up to 20 metres with just days of practice. Although the sport has had a growth in athletes, she wants to promote safety in the sport so that it can continue to grow.

In an interview with ABC news, Saenz de Santamaria explained that she stays relaxed on the ocean floor.

“There is a natural urge that you have of course – a survival instinct, it’s not quite natural for us to be 60 metres down holding our breath, so when you start free-diving you do have a natural instinct of wanting to race to the surface.

“However you train your mind mentally, and you train your body physically to not have this instinct to want to rush to the surface.

“But definitely down at 60 metres you feel deep, that’s for sure. You do feel like you’re 60 metres deep and sometimes the surface feels like forever to reach, and you have to keep on repeating to yourself a lot of positive thoughts so that you can remain nice and relaxed.”


Image credits: The images used have been previously published and attributed to Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria.

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