Diving In

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McDonogh senior Olivia Millspaugh shares her college essay on the terror and thrill of free diving in the Caribbean. Olivia will attend College of Charleston next fall.

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you

My free diving instructor at the Island School, Ian, explained, “You will believe you are dying. First you will feel a burning sensation in your lungs, and then you will experience diaphragm spasms. But you should ignore it, because this feeling would actually have to occur four times consecutively before you are really in trouble.” That statement didn’t calm my nerves. I was still afraid to touch the bottom of a swimming pool, and here I was in the ocean. 

As the boat stopped, I looked down into the ocean and noticed how menacing the choppy water seemed to be. I slowly slipped on my flippers and snorkel in an attempt to delay my entry into the ocean, but after a few moments I managed to jump into the water. The three-foot swells pushed me around, and I pictured myself the victim of a shark attack in a movie. “Relax,” I said to calm myself, and I stuck my head into the water to glance at the ocean floor one hundred feet beneath me. 

The sea was like another world underneath the dark waves. Surprisingly, my anxiety vanished. The ocean was so tranquil and serene. Inside the infinite blue were enormous reefs covered with sea fan coral and multiple aquatic organisms. Swimming around me were Queen Triggerfish, Blue Chromises, Townsend Angelfish, and many other marine animals in vibrant blues and yellows. I had never seen such an array of colors together in a natural environment. Even the occasional Bull Shark seemed peaceful. It was all so beautiful, and I was amazed that there were ecosystems in the world like this. I felt as if I had been let in on a secret of the universe.

My first time free diving was an extremely scary and life changing experience, and it has impacted me in two different ways. Once I conquered my fear of free diving, it proved to me that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. It has also inspired me to explore the world more and to take advantage of my surroundings. Free diving has exposed me to another environment, and it has sparked my love for the natural world. As Rachel Carson once stated, “To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides … is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

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