Tanya Streeter | TEDxAustin 2012


Translator: Roni Ravia
Reviewer: Raghavi Mittal Thank you Nancy very much,
and all of the organizers. I can’t believe that
you guys put this together. I also want to thank everybody
who’s in this audience today, because I’m up here
talking about re-defining limits, and I feel like
I’m preaching to the choir a little bit, just by virtue of the fact
that you are in these seats. I’m standing here
because I set world records, in the extreme sport of free diving, and what that meant for me
was getting outside my comfort zone, and really demanding more of myself,
redefining my limits. For those of you that don’t know. Free diving is essentially
taking a big breath, and diving as deep as you can
in the ocean, and returning back to the surface safely. Ok, I’m going to tell you
about one particular dive. In 2002, I set myself
this incredible goal, of breaking not just
the women’s world record, but also the men’s, in the very mentally demanding
discipline called ‘No Limits’. I trained hard, I prepared well, and I surrounded myself
with the best possible safety team. I was ready. I was going to descent to 525 feet
on a weighted sled, and return to the surface
with the aid of a lift bag. For those of you that need
to put it in perspective. 525 feet is 10 feet deeper
than the Frost Bank building is tall, and it’s beyond the crushing depth
of second world war submarines. What could possibly go wrong? (Laughter). At t -2:00.00 minutes,
I’m out on the water, and I’m surrounded by my safety team. It’s important to me
to make eye contact, with each and every one of them, because they are the ones
who allow me to go on this journey of self discovery, and really travel
to the edge of myself, they are my safety net. In the final minute,
it’s completely silent at the surface, and the only person left there, is the most important safety diver
for me – my husband. And on land, he jokes
when I get stressed, He’s like: “just look pretty
and hold your breath babe”. (Laughter). Out on the water
it’s a lot more serious, and I just need to breath. (Demonstrating taking a deep breath
and exhaling). The breathing is about oxygenation. I need to put as much oxygen
in my blood as possible so that I can hold my breath
for the 3.5 to 4 minutes that the dive is going to take me. The last breath that I take
is for volume. I need air volume
as much as possible in my lungs to be able to equalize against
the pressure as I descend. Free divers use
a technique called packing, which means they take that deep breath but after which,
they suck a little bit more air in and pack it into their lungs. It’s risky but it’s necessary. And on world record attempt day
I screwed up. I packed too much air into my lungs
and in doing so, I restricted my heart just enough so that it couldn’t efficiently send
oxygenated blood to my brain and I blacked out. I came to a moment later and realized
that the seconds were ticking by and my safety team
was waiting for me at depth. I took a really quick breath,
I packed a few times and I gave the signal
to be released to the deep. (Demonstrating taking a breath,
packing, giving the signal). It was the worst possible start. Instantly there was a devil
on my shoulder. “Today is not the day girl.
Give up. Go back”. And then there was an angel
on my other shoulder who said: “Just keep going.
Just see how far you can go”. It got difficult for me to equalize
fairly early on, because I didn’t have
the necessary volume of air that I normally would have. And the devil was right back. “Today is not the day girl.
Are you crazy? You blacked out”. “This is the unknown.
Go back. Give up”. I stopped my sled.
I just needed to equalize one more time. And I had that angle
on my other shoulder. “Just keep going.
Just see how far you can go”. Somehow I managed
to equalize one more time. I released the break of my sled
and I inched slowly and painfully to my goal depth. Narcosis is something
that scuba divers learn about, and they fear it like the plague. Narcosis is feared
by free divers as well, because even though
we are not breathing gases under water, we are subjected to the same symptoms, because of the rapid rate of descent
and the extreme depth that we are going to. At 525 feet I was hit by narcosis
and I couldn’t think straight. I knew that I had three simple steps
to get me out of there and back to the surface. One: Put my hand on the lift bag. Two: Open the valve
and dump air into the lift bag. Three: Pull the pin. One. Two. Three. But in my haze of narcosis, I remembered that I wanted
to blow a kiss to the sea. My crazy thank you
for letting me go down there. I did three steps but my third
was the kiss and I forgot to pull the pin. And for a few very tense
and terrifying moments, I was there alone, frozen, at 525 feet. The narcosis just gripped me more and more and I fumbled with my sled
trying to get it to work. And then I had
a very powerful clear thought. This is going to be sad. I was thinking about all of the people
that were waiting for me at the surface. This is going to be sad. It was powerful enough
that it jolted me back to reality and I remembered to pull the pin. It was an incredibly quick ride
back to the surface, but it was a new world record. It took me a long time
to discuss the circumstances, not to drink the champagne, to discuss the circumstances
of the dive. And this is actually the first time
that I’m discussing it publicly. And yes it’s also the first time
that my mother is hearing about it. (Laughter). To redefine your limits
is to first accept that there are limits. They are just not
where you think they are. I ignored the devil on my shoulder
and I learned about self integrity. I made it my mantra. if it’s not something physical
that’s stopping me, then it’s just mental. And I had to be honest
about the difference. In pushing so hard,
I learned about limits. And I thought that I had found mine. And quite honestly, I was happy
with 525 feet being my limit. But as I came to terms with the dive
and I began to dissect it, I realized that
it wasn’t the case at all. If I could do 525 feet
with such a rough start, what could I do
under perfect conditions? I was outside my comfort zone
and I was holding on despite pain and letting go of the power
of negative suggestion. I made my mind my weapon,
not my weakness. And that devil, never stood a chance. World records are one thing. Pregnancy and motherhood
are entirely another. (Laughter). But I sort of approached the pregnancy
and the motherhood much in the same way
as I did any world record. I trained hard. Meaning that I read every possible
book that I could lay my hands on. And I prepared well. I ate healthy food and
didn’t so much as sniff red wine let alone drink it. And most importantly, I surrounded myself
with the best possible support team. I had an idea of an all natural
birth plan and I set my sights on that. I like to think that
if a doctor had told me that an intervention of some kind
was necessary, that I would have let go
of my desperate need to redefine my limits
in those circumstances and done what was best for my child. I like to think that. As it was I didn’t have to face up to
anything like that until a couple of weeks later,
when it became apparent that I wasn’t making enough milk
for our beautiful daughter Tilly and that she wasn’t gaining any weight. And this sent me spiralling
into postpartum depression. I didn’t understand. I had prepared well.
I had trained hard. Why was I failing? It got to the point where
I couldn’t even hold my baby. And I was completely irrational.
I said things to my husband like: “You don’t understand.
My last big project, I was the best in the world”. And I thanked god for my safety team. That beloved group of people around me, who helped me to realize
that in this instance, it wasn’t about being
the best in the world, it was about being
the best in my world. And in redefining limits here,
I had to let go. Ever since my first world record I’ve aligned myself with
different environmental organizations, who all worked to protect my beloved sea. Last year I was approached by
the Plastic Oceans Foundation, who asked me not just to be a patron
but also to become involved in… Sorry my daughter is doing just fine
by the way. I got a fiery red head and
she redefines my limits every day. (Laughter). Plastic Oceans asked me
to be involved in their film, which is looking at the very real
and shocking impact of plastic pollution. Finally, for me, it feels like there’s
a point to this bizarre gift I have, of quite looking pretty
and holding my breath. I have the opportunity
to pay the sea back. Up until now I didn’t feel that landing my name or a signature
or a photograph to a campaign was truly enough. I wanted to get my hands dirty. Secretly, I wanted to put myself between a harpoon vessel
and a whale on the brink of extinction. That’s how I thought
I could pay the sea back. As a child it had been my playground,
a place of escape and protection. And as s a free diver it was the place
where I proved myself to myself by traveling to the absolute
edge of myself. Finally I feel like
I’m paying the sea back. But I’m learning on my feet. I didn’t know that in the last 10 years, we’ve made more plastic
than we did in the century before that. I find this shocking. Half of those plastic products
are considered disposable. But think about it. How can a disposable product be made
of a material that’s indestructible. Where does it go? (movie starts) We depend on the oceans
that dominate our planet. For our food. Our water.
For the air we breath. But now, we are dominating the oceans. What we’re discovering is alarming. I’ve always loved oceans. Ever since I was a child,
I’ve been attracted to the sea. I’m utterly defined by the ocean. I think we are only just now starting to
understand how bad this issue really is. I don’t think anything prepares you
as a human being, for a sight like that. It’s absolutely horrific. I’ve never see anything quite like it. So it accumulates now in the oceans
to a degree which should terrify us all. The irresponsible disposal of our waste
is endangering their existence. Our plastic has become their diet. When we received that turtle
about twelve years ago, it had a ring about this size
in the middle of the turtle. The world of plastics
is present everywhere. Yet this presence is but a premonition
of a future world. Our children will see a bit of that world and our grandchildren
will not see the end of it. The one deter assault of plastic solution is
the behaviour of the people around the stairwells. So maybe we’ll start with that first and then we’ll solve everything else
afterwards. We have to act. We have to act now to try
and clear up and repair some of the appalling damage
that we’ve made to the ocean. That plastic that I was swimming through
is ultimately ending up inside the stomaches
and then inside the blubber of one of the most magnificent creatures
to live on this planet. For the first time, scientists are connecting
the toxins we put at the oceans with some of the deadliest
diseases of our age. Experience an eye opening journey. Terrifying. Beautiful.
And ultimately hopeful. In a most astonishing documentary. Without the ocean, life on earth
could not exist, including us. Plastic is so permanent,
so indestructible. There is no “away”. (movie ends). So I find myself again
utterly outside my own comfort zone. I’m learning on my feet
because this is not my field of expertise. And I’m doing it in a very public forum
on the silver screen. I’m not suggesting
that we live without plastics. They are integral
to our modern day lifestyle. But I am suggesting that we lean how
to live without its insidious pollution or our children and our grandchildren will
pay the price of our plastic addiction. I’ve come full circle
as a free diver, a mother, and now a spokesperson
for my beloved aquatic second home. And in doing so I’ve learned
that redefining limits is not about being the best in the world. Nor is it about
being the best in my world. At this point,
it’s about being the best for our world. I’m just a girl with really long fins
who did something impossible because I wanted to. The journey has of course been a reward
and the risks have been worth it, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here now. In closing I’d like to quote
the author Leo Buscaglia whose, I think, his words, beautifully articulate our basic human need
to redefine limits. “The person who risks nothing,
does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel,
and change, and grow, and live and love”. Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much. (Applause).

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