Natalia Molchanova is dead. You can be forgiven if you have not heard of her. In this world of seven billion inhabitants there are people who accomplish great things that we never hear of or give witness to…until they are gone.
Ms. Molchanova was widely regarded as the world’s greatest free diver, perhaps in the history of the sport (at the time of her death on August 2nd she held 41 world records).
Free diving is a basic, no frills sport. All you need is a body of water and a diver. You hold your breath and dive as deeply as you possibly can. In Ms. Molchanova’s case it was very deep indeed. She was the first woman to ever pass the 100 meter depth. That is a little over the length of a football field, down into the sea and, of course, back to the surface again. Ms. Molchanova held the world record for holding her breath longer than anyone else – 9 minutes and 2 seconds!
These records are remarkable enough but are even more so when placed into the context of Ms. Molchanova’s life. She was originally a competitive swimmer but “retired” after giving birth to her son (who is also a free diver). She returned to training, and took up free diving, at the age of 40 and carved a spectacular career in the span of 13 years. At an age when most people begin to think about true retirement this remarkable woman found an outlet that not only satisfied her desire to compete but also, it seemed, gave her great spiritual reward.
“Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” Ms. Molchanova said in an interview last year. “When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think, we are separate. On surface, it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”
In a world where we are constantly barraged by stimulus that forces an almost non-stop thinking, the prospect of “not thinking” is almost, well, unthinkable. And yet it seems to hold some key to finding an inner peace, ask any Zen master or Buddhist monk. Or, perhaps, any child in the womb, waiting to be born, floating in their own sea, experiencing the oneness.
For Ms. Molchanova her moment of becoming one with the world is now eternal. Her body has not been found and her son has accepted that. “It seems she’ll stay in the sea,” he said. “I think she would like that.” ❦