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.

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