This is the story of how a former rugby star lame from waist down finds himself at 26 meters depth on one breath diving among sharks.
||But it starts with a car crash. "Actually, I don't remember the accident. I can remember as far as a time when my girlfriend phoned me, and I told her, 'I'll phone you when I get to Welkom, I'm driving at the moment' and I put the phone down. Two-and-a-half days later I woke up in hospital."
A young south african man finds himself lame from waist down and in a wheelchair after leaving the hospital. And there ends an expected glorius Rugby career for Cedric Mkhize, as his name is, who was one of the rising top players during 2006. On the positive side is that he is not one of the 10.000 who every year die in South African traffic. Also positive is the fact that rugby in south Africa is big, and even a former star is not forgotten. The organization Rugby legends of south Africa believes that one is not truly a great athlete or a legend until one starts giving back something to the sport that is beyond kicks, touch downs and points. “Rugby legends” has supported Cedric in his convalescence the last two years. This can most easily be seen in the flashy car Cedric drives with the help of automatic gears and hand controls for speed and break. He has also found himself a job in the PR section of the Sun hotel casino corporation.
The farfetched connection between Cedric and a tigershark, was seen by the manager of the company Ad-venture, a corporate event company that had worked with Blue wilderness
, a dive center specializing in sharkdives. Mark who is running the center is an avid advocate of “shark rights”, that is, them not being killed on a slaughter level just for their fins and their bad reputation. At the same time the South African TV series WILD planned a programme describing the plight of the sharks. Ad-venture thought it might be a good idea to throw in the former rugby player Cedric who played for the team: sharks. Blue wilderness in Durban works with Hanli Prinsloo
, one of the F.BIZ team, and she was contacted and brought in to teach Cedric some freediving skills.
||To spice it up the TV crew had googled some unknown paraplegic freediving record approved by no one but the diver himself no doubt, and of course some media looking for a suitable headline. So the drama hook of a world record attempt is written into the script. Cedric gets pretty nervous and probably sceptic when it is more or less announced that he will decend to 12 meters on one breath. How, he does not really know, since his experience with a mask on his face is pretty much zero.
A sponsored suit is made in no time to fit Cedrics body, still the built of a rugby athlete topsides, but his legs has lost their former strength and Cedric has slowly lost wait over the years, some 30 kilos since the accident.
Left photo: following Cedric up from one of his deeper dives.
Below: Sebastian zooming in on a Tiger shark, which in turn is zooming in on a dangling fresh bait on the end of the rope.
Under the gentle guidance of Hanli the main attraction is lowered into the pool. Cedric quickly shows a calmness and an ability to relax under Hanlis coaching, a first result of 3.30 face down in the pool sets the team into cheers and laughter. When the camera starts rolling Cedric endures 1.45 minutes of breathing reflexes and touches four minutes of total breath hold time. He might have lost his ability to walk, but the competitive instinct is still there.
||Of we go to a quarry outside Durban, rock walls, green water and no visibility. A rope is lowered and the basics of equalization is taught. Cedric suprises both Hanli and me (back up safety) with a first dive lasting 1.30 min. Way above the average beginner. He turns a 6 meters with hurt ears, and we have to tell him to ease of. In the next dive he does nine meters in that slow relaxed manner that instructors love to see.
“My legs are all over the place” says Cedric that has no means of controlling the whereabouts of his legs. We attach 2 kilos of led and a weight belt holding his ankles together. On his third dive he reaches 14 meters feet first and the restless TV crew on the shore have their world record, but we still miss the money shoot: Cedric among Tigersharks.
|We loose one day to weather and Hanli has to go to the capital and among others receive an “awesome women of the year award” from Cosmopolitan magazine. The adventurous Hanli dons a tiny flimsy dress and mingles with NGO´s, nuclear phycisists and female athletes, while I am promoted to head coach with the responsibility of “keeping Cedric alive”.
I have higher ambitions than that though. When Cedric arrives next day I explain to him that I am far less nice than Hanli, and that I am not impressed at all by his 14 meters. Talented beginners go beyond 20 I tell him, with or without legs.
"We can do this the easy way, posing for the camera at 6-7 meters, or set our minds to really finding your true depth limit".
In Cedric we see an competitive person, an athletes mind and a calmness and breath holding capacity that rises above the average beginner. I would not be surprised if you make it to 30 I tell him (in honesty). We repeat a few chest exercises from the day before as the ribs (boats) launches with sponsors, rugby legends, TV crew and dive center crew.
I urge him to remember the calm breathing taught by Hanli and stresses the importance of a really big breath. Today he knows the dangers of missing even just one equalization and the starts his descent slowly.
All the while Mark and his crew set up a baitbox at 7 meters depth to capture the olfactory imagination of the resident sharks. Soon 2 meter black tips turn up en masse and are further agitated by sardines thrown basically on the snorklers on the surface.
Cold eyes and big jaws cruises around us but we have been informed they hardly eat anything bigger than a hand so better keep your hands to yourself when the sardines come raining.
Cedric does 18 meters on his second dive thanks to his calmness and ability for long breath holds. Unfortunately that’s the bottom. I take the opportunity to suggest him forgetting about that so called "world record" and compare with common freedivers. Who knows how that other guy descended to 11 meters, he might have only used one arm for all we now, so show him some respect. In the olympics disabled people compete in a variety of categories.
||We drift with baitbox and freedive buoy out to deeper water and I lower the line to 21 meters. Cedric breathes up forever and of he goes, I follow face to face mimicking good advice on what to do with head and jaw to simplify equalization of ears, but Cedric bolts at 18 again to my disappointment. On the surface he tells me about this huge tigershark behind my back, that sort of distracted him. On the second try with the three and a half meter tigershark gone he does 21 meters.
The snorklers start packing up, climbing on board the ribs. I ask Cedric if he feels like more or if he is cold. He says yes to both questions. I lower some more line and grab the uw-video camera preparing to follow him.
I have come to the conclusion that with his moderate breathing during breath-up and his legs not consuming that much oxygene he is probably better of than me oxygenewise. In the free immersion category this guy is more physically advantaged than anything else.
Cedric toches the weights at 26 meters and smiles behind the spheramask, he has fine ears and more to give. I urge him up, pulling him past cameras asking to be posed for. On the way back to the beach he asks me what kind of depths are needed to be sort of average in this FIM category, I tell him 60-65 would impress and that it could be in his reach within a year or two, if he can find a local coach.
|There are no paraplegic records in freediving. If the existing world federation of freediving AIDA would start dealing with this it would mean a huge work categorizing a whole range of disadvantaged levels, for each freediving category. One way to go, would be to use most of the way IOC swimmers are categorized.
About the "other" paraplegic 11 m dive (in turkish)
Writer: Sebastian Naslund