Freediving is a sport that involves diving underwater on a single breath, without any scuba gear, relying only on one’s own physical and mental strength. With every meter of depth, the lungs are compressed and the heart slows down. The athlete has to empty the mind and enter a Zen state in order to conserve oxygen. They are risking their lives each time they go deeper and just one meter of depth can take many years of training.
Experts say it’s a calculated risk and it’s never the ocean’s fault if something goes wrong. However, sometimes, strange things happen and a diver who set out on a quest for a spiritual experience simply vanishes.
One woman, Natalia Molchanova, became known as the Queen of Free Diving. She won 23 World Championship medals and set 42 World Records. This made her the most titled female athlete in the world. This amazing woman reached a depth of 127 meters on a single breath. That’s roughly the height of a 47-story building. She held her breath for nine minutes total.
Molchanova had worked as a swimming instructor for years but then discovered this sport at the age of 40. At that time she was going through a rough patch in her life. Her sister states that after becoming involved in this sport, Natalia’s personality changed visibly and she became calmer and more present.
Natalia Molchanova taught her son Alexey to swim when he was three years old and at that young age, he broke a few records. As an adult, she introduced him to the sport and even became his coach. Alexey went on to become a worldwide leader in free diving, won many world championships, and set a few records of his own.
Free diving has been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that it became recognized as a sport.
Those who practice it are aware that a slight miscalculation can have serious consequences. Nevertheless, the breathtaking lure of the underwater world and the fierce competitive spirit, which is common to most athletes, nearly always overshadows any fears about the risks.
On August 2, 2015, Natalia Molchanova, acknowledged as one of the world’s best free divers, went with some friends for a dive just off the Spanish coast. She never returned to the surface and although for many days her body was searched for, it was never found. Natalia was a celebrity in the free diving world. She had even set up her own freediving school where her students called her ‘Mama Natasha’.
For this amazing woman, free diving was more than a sport. It was a way of life, a philosophy, and a way of finding harmony with the world. Still, Natalia’s legacy continues partly through her students, but most of all she is remembered for the achievements of her son, Alexey Molchanov.