| Tanya Streeter
Providenciales Island (Turks and Caicos Islands), July 22: The limits of human achievement were pushed a little deeper yesterday by a British woman’s remarkable underwater adventure in the Caribbean.
Tanya Streeter, a former Roedean School student, became the first person to dive to 122 metres and resurface safely using only a pair of giant fins for propulsion.
The feat, in a 2,133 metre abyss off the British-owned Turks and Caicos Islands, 925 km south-east of Miami, gave Streeter her fourth world record in the extreme sport of free-diving, in which competitors plunge to extraordinary depths on one breath of air.
The achievement also helped to repair some of the damage caused to the sport by the death of a French woman, Audrey Mestre, during an attempt on one of Streeter’s records off the Dominican Republic last October.
Mestre, 28, drowned after spending nine minutes under water when an inflatable bag designed to propel her to the surface failed.
“I’ve proved that free-diving can be done safely and responsibly. The record probably won’t sink in until I’ve read about it but for now I can say it feels good,” she said after resurfacing with a wide grin and opening a bottle of champagne in the water with her husband Paul and mother Sandra.
In yesterday’s dive, Streeter shattered the women’s record of 95 metres in the variable ballast discipline, widely regarded as the sport’s toughest because it forbids the use of buoyancy aids and compels the diver to return from the deep completely under their own power. Streeter has been deeper, to 160 metres a year ago, but her ascent then was speeded by a balloon.
During yesterday’s physically exhausting dive, in which Streeter was under water for three minutes 38 seconds, she also surpassed the men’s best of 120 metres held by Patric Musimu of Belgium, making her the only female in any sport to better the world record of a male counterpart.
“Beating the men’s record in this discipline was a real challenge for me, the hardest thing I have ever done, and achieving that makes it very, very special,” said Streeter, who lives in Texas with her Brighton-born husband Paul. A team of 14 safety divers encouraged her by tapping on metal sticks and two at the 122 metres mark sang Elton John’s Crocodile Rock to her to let her know she had broken the record.
“I could hear them singing but they were on helium at that depth and their voices were really squeaky,” she said.
The dive began with Streeter taking deep breaths to pack her lungs with air and descending aboard a weighted metal sled past safety divers positioned at 18 metre intervals.
Climbing is the hardest part of the dive. “It was hard. The conditions were excellent but it was a bit bumpy out there today. I feel good, but very tired. This wasn’t about me, it was about us all as a team,” she said after celebrating with spectators and dignitaries from the Turks and Caicos government, who sponsored her attempt.
She said that mental conditioning was the key to fighting the urge to take a breath under water and dealing with the other dangers of the deep, such as intense pressure on the eardrums, the severe contraction of the lungs, displacement of the heart and the paralysing build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
Last month the Turks and Caicos government marked Streeter’s achievements by featuring her on a set of British postage stamps — the first living person other than royalty to be accorded the honour.