William Winram | The Journey is the Measure of Success – part 3
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The Journey is the Measure of Success – part 3

Breathing up prior to my world record dive to 140 m VWTNF

Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt | December 12, 2023

When I left Egypt a year ago, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I had invested considerable time, energy and money and picked up a virus a few days before the start of the world record attempts, thus failing to reaching my goal.

Failure is a strong word… yes, I failed to achieve my goal but I came away with many positives.

To start with, a visit back to my osteopath confirmed the virus had left adhesion in my upper lungs which, he suspected, had I pushed the dive I could have wound up with a bad lung squeeze… kudos to me for respecting my sensations and aborting the dive, not going for the record at all cost.

Throughout the year, I had seen great improvements for my clients in their breathing, lung volume and overall health – applying what I was learning on myself to day-to-day living. Ten years ago I would have felt a lot of frustration for coming away empty-handed and would have probably dumped garbage attitude into my environment but funnily enough I was not experiencing hugely charged emotions which generally aren’t at all useful or productive. I simply had accepted that the journey was continuing and if I was going to be true to what I have been saying “that it is not so much about the record but about the journey” then I needed to walk my talk.

After taking a look at budgeting another run at it in 2023, I sat down with my partner Michèle and listed options for some financial support and we put together an application to the Fondation du Sport in Geneva.

At the same time we were putting together an expedition for a group of school kids to experience freediving and diving with sharks. I planned to head to South Africa from Egypt and in this way I could see if, with a week of training, had I been able to maintain my acclimatization to depth. Another test of the stretching, breath work and yoga I was doing. Sure enough, at the end of the week with only 4 sled sessions I was back to 125m of depth… South Africa came and went and I was back in Sharm El Sheikh and on the sled… At the same time I was working on my strength and conditioning with my brother Robert, a retired F-18 pilot and top gun turned Special Forces Commander.

Then back to Switzerland for the Swiss championships and some average results but I was there to see friends, but mostly I was there to pay tribute international freediving judge Marcello de Matteis who had lost his battle with cancer as the competition was dedicated to him.

I carried on with some conditioning training and continued work on my cranium to resolve an old head injury from a fall many years ago and I headed back to Egypt to train towards nailing the dives I had not last year.

We still did not know how to afford the cost of the training nor the costs of the record attempt but I continued to focus and train along with working with clients. August came quickly and an AIDA Freediving World Cup was organized at the center where I was basing my training. I participated because no other training was being offered during a 2-week period, and decided to keep a focus on working on my equalisation and not particularly the competition. I ended up with a new NR in CWT-BiFin at 91 meters and winning the overall ranking, much to my surprise.

William in first place with 314 points, Stefan Randing 298 points and Carlos Diezel 195 points

On August 25, I went back to Geneva for a week for meetings to meet with a doctor who has been studying me. On Monday August 28, I started to get messages from friends asking if I knew what was going on in Sharm… And that’s when the news dropped for me: the owner of Freediving World training center Andrea Zuccari had gone missing on a routine scuba dive to service the anchor lines. Just like that, Andrea was no longer with us and I found myself without my friend of 16 years, who was also my equalization coach and the organiser of my record attempts. With his tragic passing, the freediving community at large lost an innovator an exceptional athlete and coach. I was deeply saddened by this news and returned to Egypt at a complete loss. Before anything, the people closest to him needed to gather and grieve, before envisioning an “after”. Needless to say, I couldn’t care less about diving once I arrived back in Egypt. I had dropped my expectation of continuing sled diving or record attempts and focused on figuring out what had happened to my friend. There were many questions, but sadly he was never retrieved. We gathered with Andrea’s wife Alice Cattaneo to mourn our friend. Then we had to decide what to do next. Alice was quick to make a firm decision to continue Andrea’s legacy and she was able to count on Riccardo Buffoli who returned to Freediving World Center to take over the position of safety manager.

As for me, I had to ask myself if I wanted to continue regardless of the emotions and frustrations. I did not dive much the first two weeks and resumed my depth training gradually trying to figure out a way forward. I reveled in the challenges and embraced the grief, not pushing myself in the early stages back in the water after Andrea’s passing. The fact that everyone at Freediving World diving center was also deeply grieving Andrea made it particularly challenging, as it brought up strong emotions throughout the days.

After discussions we agreed to start sled diving and training and the team began their learning curve. A group of talented and smart young divers who from my observations learn fast and my confidence in them grew daily.

October brought another World Cup competition in honor of Andrea Zuccari. As I could not train with the sled nor train at all unless I competed, I did… and won Constant Weight Without fins (CNF) with a 75m dive in strong current. My collective results in this competition placed me third on the overall podium and it turns out there was an overall winner for the combined points of the May, August and October competitions and I won first place again.

After the competition in October, I focused solely on sled training as it was going well while I was doing no fins sled but the moment I switched to bifins and the set up of that particular sled I went backwards in depth. It required too much muscular effort to stay with the sled as compared to the ease of the no fins sled with the foot straps. After struggling with the bifins sled weeks I decided I had enough and went back to no fins. On November 30, the last training day before the start of the attempts I nailed a 132-meter dive, a world record in itself (though unratified) as the prior depth that had been broken with that particular discipline was 115 meters by Omar Al Ghailani in August 2022. I was back on track.

On the first day of my world record attempts event, December 2, I set a 136m VWT-NF world record, weighted sled down, coming up without fins with the only assistance of my kick and the rope. I took one rest day off and attempted again on December 4, where I stopped the sled at 130 meters because I could not equalize deeper, making the swim back up pulling up the rope. Another day off and on December 6 I reached 135 meters, once again stopping the sled and returned to the surface. I took days off and on December 9 dive I reached another 135-meter dive working on the dry EQ skills having identified my weak spots and I kept working to correct.

On the final day of the event, December 11, the sea was rough and I got washed over several times by the swell as I was breathing up in the last minutes prior to my dive. Finally, I gave the nod to Riccardo to release the sled and I started my descent into the sea. I made a small error on the final recharge of the mouthfill* as I missed making the M sound* and I noticed that my air was reducing quicker than it should*. Unfortunately, I was already past 60 meters and so aborting the dive would not allow me to restart (CMAS rules allows for a dive no deeper than 50 meters to be restarted if the athletes wants another chance). I figured this would be another opportunity to work on my air management albeit with less air than I normally have had… I switched to the tongue* between 100m-110m which is shallower than previous dives and had zero issues (the tongue has been the phase that has not worked well for me in the past)… shockingly I arrived to the bottom (according to the head judge he could see on the bottom camera footage that I look surprised to have made the depth) with air to spare. I made my way back to the surface without fins thus collecting a second world record for the year.

Grateful to Freediving World Dive Center and the entire team, to Sharm Club Beach Resort for their support of these record attempts. Also CMAS Commissioners Pim Vermeulen, Apostolos Bellos and Rodolfo Robatti as well as DC Officer Dr. Hossam Eldin Ibrahim for adjudicating this event.

Onwards to 2024 for my 19th year in the competitive sport of freediving. As Michael Jordan once said “Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just illusions.” Oh, and I will turn 60. Don’t count on me to retire, see you in the water.

* The description of the mouthfill and M sound and use of the tongue to manage the air are specific peculiarities to the sport of deep freediving. It’s a very technical set of skills that comes naturally for some people (who don’t have to think about it) and very unnatural to others (such as me who has had to learn how to refine the art of equalisation in order to make those depths. In fact my limit has never been the ascent but rather the descent).

>>> For those of you inclined to learn how to work through your freediving hurdles, I will be teaching several courses in the new year. Entirely customized one-on-one coaching is also possible for anyone wanting to learn how to improve the quality of their life. <<<

Wishing everyone and their families all the very best for the holidays!

William on the weighted sled a 2 seconds away from reaching the VWTNF world record depth of 140m

From left to right, William Winram, Rodolfo Robatti, Federico Franconi, Alice Cattaneo, Andrea Marengo, Pim Vermeulen, Antonella Sciacca, Ashraf Ehab and Riccardo Buffoli
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