Monday, April 4, 2016

Escaping My Blog

Alexanderia the Great on America's Got Talent
Escaping My Blog - 
So despite my wanting to use this place as a journal of what I have been doing, I have not done so. Though there has been much that has gone on since I have last written, I have not been able to process it all and so I have put off putting it all together.

You see it is much easier to give people visual snippets via postings on Facebook or random tweets on Twitter. I have even pinned pics on Pinterest but I have not put my thoughts together in any cohesive way because honestly, it has all felt a bit disjointed.  I am just now starting to try and understand this crazy roller coaster ride I have been on.

Now I know my ride is not your normal ride for a mom of three. My path is different by my own choice. After America's Got Talent, I did not want to pack up the Winnebago and go on the road 52 weeks of the year to do my show. Though I am an escape artist, I was not looking to escape from my family.  Now please do not think this is the hearts and violin part where I say
Alexanderia the Great with family outside Radio City
Music Hall after her AGT appearance
having a family makes this so much harder for me because it doesn't.  In fact, my family made things easier for me, not harder.  If anyone made  things harder, it was me and how I processed or  didn't process my situation.  I made this a much  more difficult than it should have been.  Yes  maybe some juggling skills would have helped a  bit but this bumpy ride I have been on is really  more about ME struggling with ME.  Trying to figure out how I fit in and how I want to make a difference.  

In many ways, this escape artist has been trapped.  For me, it was not knowing how I wanted to shape my own world. I needed to better understand the powers and resources I had and how I could use them best to make me and others happy.  If we were talking purely magic that would be easy.  I am talking about who I am and what I wanted and needed to do.  This is what has kept me confined. Bound by my own set of expectations or what I felt was expectations put on me.          

As an escape artist, I have done escapes that not even Houdini himself did.  As a woman in magic (rare) and an escape artist to boot (one of the only women in the world to do these type of escapes)  I have done escapes that no one in the world, male or female has done. This is my Underwater Cell (UC) escape that combined two of Houdini's greatest escapes (his upside down strait jacket escape and his deadly Water Torture Cell ).  I did this escape on America's Got Talent live. Wrapped in 25 feet of chains and secured further by 5 padlocks, I attempt to escape all of it while locked underwater in a small 3 x 3 foot mini Water Cell Torture Cell with the lid padlocked shut by a 6th padlock.

The escape is more dangerous than either a strait jacket or the Water Torture Cell escape (the WTC itself is considered the greatest escape in magic and many consider most dangerous escape)
Poster of Harry Houdini for his Water Torture Cell
because you are combing both underwater and there is so little space to get out.  Usually the strait jacket escape itself requires a great deal of movement and time (Houdini's record was 2:37 seconds).

Alexanderia the Great doing her Underwater Cell (UC) escape
a combo strait jacket & mini Water Torture Cell escape
Alexanderia the Great upside down locked in her Underwater Cell attempting to escape a strait jacket & chains underwater in a locked bullet proof cell
Alexanderia the Great on America's Got Talent doing a first in magic
a combo strait jacket 25 feet of chains secured with 5 padlocks 
and locked underwater in a bullet proof mini Water Torture Cell she 
calls her Underwater Cell (UC) done all in full view 
Adding chains makes the process much more difficult.  How do you get the chains off or pic the locks when your hands are rendered useless wrapped around your body?  Houdini refused to do a strait jacket escape underwater as he said the material was too unpredictable in water because it clings to your body.
Alexanderia the Great aka Donna Purnell
attempting to escape a strait jacket, chains & 
6 padlocks while locked underwater in a mini
 Houdini Water Torture Cell on America's 
Got Talent
 Even if you could manage to do what was needed to escape the strait jacket, chains and the padlocks will you have enough time and breath left to find the bobby pins at the bottom of the tank and then pick the final lock to the lid of the Underwater Cell?
Alexanderia the Great trying to pick the lock of her Underwater Cell
after successfully escaping strait jacket secured with 25 feet of chains 
5 padlocks all underwater on America's Got Talent.

All of this, mind you, is done in full view unlike  Houdini who did the Water Torture Cell behind a curtain. Doing one of magic's most deadly escapes (WTC) while being in a strait jacket and chains makes it much more dangerous because the water cell is smaller (half  the size) of the  WTC leaving little room to move to escape the jacket and chains. After having to violently move around to eschew the strait jacket and chains you risk expending too much energy and  oxygen which makes picking the final lock a race against time and blackout.  Houdini used to say failure is a drowning death. Houdini's assistants used to stand by with axes to break the glass should Houdini appear to be in trouble.  In a tank made of bullet proof glass, you can see that there is no safety option of simply breaking the glass.  This is why drowning is a very real threat when I do my Underwater Cell escape.
Alexanderia the Great aka Donna Purnell gasping for air after being the first to 
successful escape a combo Strait Jacket secured with chains and padlocks 
underwater in mini Houdini Water Torture Cell in full view live on America's Got Talent
Ironically, as a former grade school teacher, I have tried to use my talents and art form to teach others to rely on themselves and not be trapped by what society thinks. Though I have done a lot, I can't help but feel guilty that I could have and should have done so much more. I had hoped after doing such an escape I would have gone further on AGT but that is show biz.  I have had some fun opportunities since then too I will expound on next time.  I hope to do more and continue to grow and do more amazing escapes.  In that way, I hope to rectify and reconcile those feelings of guilt. I will be embarking on more adventures both in escapology and in life.

Next issue, I will catch you up on what has happen and we can see what is up next for the Queen of Extreme and a Modern Day Houdini.
Go to to book a Modern Day Houdini

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Many Faces of Free Diving

This is a repost of a blog article that Erin did for Freedive Blog which reports on all things free diving.  Erin Magee, who hold no less than 6 national free diving records, is Freedive Blog's founder and runs Pacific Coast Freediving.  She is a PFI Advanced instructor and taught me to reach new breath hold times and depths. Check out her sites.  &

I wanted to personally thank Erin Magee for all she has done to help me to be as safe as I can be given my work as an escape artist.

The Many Faces of Freediving

The longer I’m in this crazy freediving world, the more variety it seems to have. Far have we ventured from the days of freediving being only a way to acquire food or reach depth (though those remain two of my favorite purposes!). The most incredible part of all this variety is who most often shows it to me- my students.
So even though most of us will continue to think of freediving as primarily depth diving or spearfishing, I often find myself thinking of friends and students who have brought the sport into whole new categories.
Miraculous Escapes
I guess Houdini was really the guy who made underwater escapes legendary, but after teaching Alexanderia the Great to increase her breath-hold and seeing her go on to show off her skills on America’s Got Talent, I’m realizing she’s bringing the magic back to freediving.
Adventure Alternative
Several years ago I taught a student who was seeking a new adventure after an ice-climbing accident shattered his legs in several places. Unable to pursue climbing any longer and looking for a way to increase his depth instead of his altitude, he came to freediving with an amazing outlook.
Now I don’t just mean that freediving is a great way to get in shape, though that’s mostly the case, but many friends and acquaintances of mine have pursued
freediving and breath-holding to help in other sports. Swimming has obvious advantages, but apnea can also increase your ability to handle high levels of carbon dioxide during sports where athletes engage in anaerobic respiration.
Navy Seals, Coast Guard rescue swimmers and other special military units have gone through our programs and found a variety of applications for both increased breath-hold and under-water stamina.
Well, this doesn’t exactly happen underwater, but I’ve seen several students go one to create some beautiful ocean-inspired jewelry. Shell Eisenberg, a past student and now fellow instructor, hand crafts silver unique pendants in the shape of mermaids, rays and more. See her online store here.
Mermaid diving
Yes, mermaids ARE real! And they have their own websites and everything. My good friend Linden Wolbert runs a company called Mermaids in Motion and has the most amazing custom tail. While this sounds like a definite niche, I’ve met many women who practice mermaid diving and swimming (ie no-mask, no wetsuit monofin swimming) in places like Kona, HI and even at local pools where I train.
Freediving may mean different things to everyone, but it’s so exciting to see people taking it, reshaping it and making it their own. You don’t have to dive to 100+ feet to be a freediver and you don’t have to spear fish. You just have to love it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Doing Something Breath-Taking

This blog post was done for the Divewise's mission is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing freediver accidents through safety and awareness.  Their goal is to eliminate preventable incidents so that no diver is senselessly lost to shallow water blackouts and other avoidable injuries. The founder and president of Divewise is Julie Richardson.Help Divewise for ways to make a difference.
 She created the organization after her two sons experienced shallow water blackout and almost died while spear fishing.  Her amazing dedication to educate and help all divers be safer is something needed.  As a former teacher myself, I applaud her efforts to help others.  I am honored to be part of her blog and quest to educate others on dive safety. If you can help please go to
Although DiveWise is primarily focused on furthering safety in the breath-hold sport of freediving, there are many breath-hold sports that involve risks which need to be mitigated. This week we are taking a look at breath-hold safety for the underwater escape artist Alexanderia the Great, whose work is truly breathtaking. Alex is an escape artist in the grand tradition of Harry Houdini. She has ventured into magic's most dangerous act - that of underwater escapes. There is is real danger in being restrained underwater.  On America's Got Talent, in her first escape, Alexanderia the Great was handcuffed, leg cuffed, wrapped in thirty feet of chains secured by eight padlocks and before she jumped into a deep pool, to make the escape more daring she blew out her air doing the escape as a negative or using Functional Residual Capacity (FRC).  Her only method of escape from her restraints was a bobby pin.  
Another escape that Alex did live on Radio City Music Hall stage involved her combining two of Houdini's greatest escapes (his strait jacket escape and his Milk Can escape). The escape involved her being put in a strait jacket secured with 25 feet of chains and 5 padlocks.  She enters a clear bullet-proof tank filled with water and no chance to breathe.  The tank is locked with a padlock and Alex must battle getting out of the chains, strait jacket and then have enough air and time to pick the lock to escape. In each of these escapes she battles underwater in a race to get out before she blacks out. 
Before she ever attempted this escape routine, she sought breath-hold training from Performance Freediving International to ensure her safety as she performed. 
Today, Alex is an international phenomenon and has performed live in Times Square with Fox & Friends, setting a world record, was a cover story for the Boston Globe, a feature story on the CBS Evening News, was the second woman ever to perform an escape at the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention, and was featured on Yahoo Studios in their Second Act series. She also was a feature with Amy Roach on NBC’s Today Show, made it to the quarterfinals in America’s Got Talent, performing live on Radio City Music Hall stage, and has been featured on over 300 news stations with her life story on the health feature Smart Women, as well as being featured in many newspapers in the US and internationally. We think you will find her story as fascinating and inspirational as we do.
Doing Something Breathtaking
by Alexanderia the Great
As a kid, I loved to watch magic. I grew up watching Doug Henning and David Copperfield.  Seeing the Tony Curtis movie on the life of Harry Houdini, however, was a turning point in my life. Once I learned about Harry Houdini, all I could think about was underwater escapes. All other magic paled in comparison to Houdini’s Water Torture Cell. As a teenager, I began researching how to perform death-defying underwater escapes. 
As I began practicing holding my breath, I discovered I had a problem. I couldn’t  hold my breath for very long, making my margin of error too small. To perform underwater escapes, it is essential to have a good breath-hold.
Though my dream was to be a female escape artist, I thought perhaps that magic was not a practical career path. So, I decided to be a teacher and let my dream go, even though the man who would become my husband urged me to not give it up. I simply felt I had no choice. Although he supported my decision, he never let me forget about my dream because he thought I had great potential. He believed in me.
In 2008, when the economy turned bad and I lost my job, my husband asked, “What about that dream of yours?” Well, thirty years later, at age forty-seven, I really didn’t  think the career of Female Escape Artist was a viable option.  My husband disagreed and proposed a bet:  If we posted an underwater escape of mine on YouTube, and it got a ton of views, I had to perform in public at the Worldwide Escape Artist Relay. My husband won the bet and I found myself training to do my first escape – an underwater escape in a pool 12.5 feet deep. 
As I considered training for a depth I had never done before, I realized that approaching this challenge with nothing other than sheer guts and willpower was simply foolhardy. I needed to add safety to this breath-hold routine. In fact, my husband insisted on it. I also needed to learn how to relax as much as possible while underwater wearing handcuffs, leg cuffs, thirty feet of chains and eight padlocks. Because I perform extreme escapes, I needed someone who understood extreme and could help me do it safer. I needed help from the freedive community.
I chose to train with Performance Freediving International (PFI) with Kirk Krack and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank who trained David Blaine for his ABC special Drowned, the underwater escape he performed in New York City. PFI understood the extreme nature of escapes. I knew they would be able to safely take me to the next level in performance. 
I ended up taking two freedive courses with PFI: one with Kirk and Mandy-Rae, and a second course with Erin Magee and Pacific Coast Freediving and Nick Fazer with East Coast Divers – both from the PFI organization. Erin and Nick bumped up my working breath-hold time from 3:00 to 4:20, which dramatically changed what I can do in escapes. Through proper training, I gained the confidence I needed to perform through teaching me safety, relaxation, and providing me with the many skills my escapes required. 
AN EXTREME WORD OF CAUTION!  I have trained extensively with some of the greatest freedivers in the world. I would not attempt these escapes without applying the safety techniques I learned from PFI. Please do not attempt to perform an escape without professional training, nor practice prolonged breath-holds without professional supervision. Safety is what my professional training is all about and it carries over into my performance with rigid safety measures in place during every performance. 
I am grateful to the instructors at PFI, and the wonderful support they have provided to me. I never thought that at age fifty-two I would be taking freedive courses in forty-seven degree water, nor challenging myself psychologically. Learning freediving safety skills has helped develop me as a person, and provided me with the life-saving skills I needed to succeed in my chosen career. 
Adapting in life is always tough because it’s uncomfortable. What I have learned, more than anything else, is that in escapes (breath-holding), and in life, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is essential to survival. 

For me there’s another aspect to my work that is somewhat uncomfortable.
Being on America’s Got Talent, the CBS Evening News, or the Today Show sounds great, but I’m not twenty-two years old, nor a size two. For a long time I wouldn’t perform in public for fear of what others might think or say about my size. But I am okay with who I am and what I do now. And I don’t want others to be trapped by their fears of what others might say about them. I got out of my box (age, size, gender etc).  I hope through my example that I can help others get out of their box to whatever that box might be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Grave Danger by Design - Life of an Escape Artist

I have taken a long break from this blog.  Being on America's Got Talent forced me to stop writing freely due to their contract.  I have done some writing since AGT and this article is being posted in on the online magazine la Vie Sirene.
For most, October means Halloween and a time to dress up in your favorite mask and pretend to be who we are not. Many love dressing up as their favorite villain or dressing in an outrageous outfit and shocking their friends.  

Though I love costume parties, for me, Halloween reminds me of magic. And when you talk magic all discussions begin and end with the master, Harry Houdini. In fact Houdini died on October 31,1926.  I saw the Tony Curtis movie Houdini and I was simply mesmerized.  Watching Houdini do those death-defying stunts blew me away.  I wondered what it would be like to try and escape from a strait jacket or the terrifying Chinese Water Torture Cell. I really wanted to know what it felt like to try and do the impossible. 

When I was growing up magic had a prominent role on TV. Magicians like Doug Henning and David Copperfield would do hour-long TV specials showcasing their wonderful talent, but no matter what they did on the show they would always end with a Houdini-like escape.  I can remember Doug Henning stepped onto the stage and I literally got a chill.  

I was 13 at the time and to see Henning do a legendary escape that many thought (wrongly) that Houdini had died in, was thrilling.  It gave me goose bumps as he was lowered into the tank. No way to breathe and seemingly no way to escape.

I can remember again thinking how cool it would be to be able to do that but I had one huge problem. There were no female escape artists. The only women doing magic were the magician’s assistants. They were beautiful and wore amazing costumes (‘barely there’ stuff) but they were literally called "box jumpers" as that is really what they did.  I didn't want to jump from box to box.  I wanted to do the impossible like Houdini did. 

Now, I didn't dare tell anyone of this as it was not what girls did. The irony here is that I wanted to do death-defying escapes but I didn't have the courage to escape my own box "perception".  I didn't want people to think I was weird or different. I locked myself in the box of "normal".  I threw away any thoughts of doing magic and decided I was going to be a teacher - something girls did -- not become an escape artist.

Well then a met a boy in high school.  Little did I know he was a big Houdini fan as well.  In fact, he read about Houdini and his escapes and learned some of his methods.  We were 16 and I had a pool in my backyard.  I had no idea he liked magic and escapology.  He said to me, “Want to see a trick?”  He had me tie his hands and feet together.  I thought he was crazy, but I was also intrigued. My heart almost stopped when he jumped into the deep end.  he was doing an underwater escape -- the very thing I had dreamed of doing, but dared not as I was too afraid to be different.  In just under 2:00 minutes he had escaped from underwater. Now I think my reaction shocked him.  When he surfaced he asked what I thought and I said, "I want to try it".  He laughed and said, "You can't do that; you don't know the trick."  I asked him to let me try.  And so I did.  He tied my hands and feet and I dove in.  
When I got to the bottom the feeling was like a cross between pure panic and a 
feeling of OMG I am really doing this.  I was doing an underwater escape like Houdini.  I loved it.  What a rush.  I managed to get out somehow, mainly because I was running out of air.  My boyfriend was completely blown away.  He tried to convince me that we should be an act but I was stuck in "my box" -- not willing to try and escape it.  I said, “No way!” I was going to do the safe thing.. the normal thing... and be a teacher.     

Well, that boy actual became my husband. And for thirty years he urged me to follow my original dream though I never really told him it was a dream.  It took me 30 years (a few job losses, bankruptcy and almost losing the house) before I would show my talents. In 2009, after years of talking with professional escape artists about what we did and my husband Bill showing them clips, I finally allowed him to post something on Youtube for the public to see.  

Bill and I watched magic through the years, especially escapes and would try and reverse engineer them -- figure how to do an escape and then try and go further with it. I never thought I could perform in public as I thought I was risking it all my job, my friends and my family.  I dared not be different. 

My problem with showing the world my talent was I was dealing with even more boxes now. I added age & weight to my list of reasons why I couldn't do this. I thought ‘Who wants to see a 47-year-old do escapes?’ Bill refused to listen to any of the negative talk. The agreement was simple.  If any negative comments were posted about my escapes he would remove them and end any further discussion about becoming an escape artist. Of course, if it took off, then I would do my first public escape at the Worldwide Escape Artist Relay, an event held in honor of Harry Houdini.  

Well, the video exploded and I did the Worldwide Escape Artist Relay doing my Underwater Leap of Faith Escape. It required me to tell my parents, as I did the escape in their hometown, and tell my friends. Crazy as it sounds, I was more worried about rejection than drowning! Simply put, to be outstanding, you have to be willing to stand out. I would risk doing death-defying escapes 12.5 feet underwater in 50 pounds of chains and shackles but would not risk showing the world for fear of rejection.

The villain inside us is what we have to fight. Especially as women, it is so hard to step out for fear that others (sadly too many women) will judge us harshly. As a sisterhood, we have to begin to be more supportive of one another.  We cannot rip apart each other every time a girl or a women steps out.  It is appalling how poorly women treat one another.  And now, our little girls are being thrust out on the stage earlier than ever before with social media.  Many have been victims of cruel and senseless ridicule.  I have done work with Girls Inc and I tell my story of "getting out of my box" and the struggle it posed.  I now teach young girls to be strong and dare to be different.  I try to help them become escapes artists (figuratively) by helping them escape their boxes.

For me, the last 4 years has been nothing short of amazing. I have done seven national TV appearances. I did NBC's Today, the CBS Evening News, set a world record on Fox and Friends, and I did three episodes of America's Got Talent last year and designed and trained Todd Sampson for a Houdini like underwater escape in the series Hack My Brain for the Science Channel (which also aired in Australia on ABC and won an award for best documentary) . But none of this would have happened without the love of a strong husband and the courage to escape my box. As sisters, mothers and friends, I urge you to help support our girls and show them that it is ok to stand out, as it is the only way to be outstanding. 


Follow Alexanderia’s great escapes 
on her website,
her Facebook page & on Twitter