Hello and welcome to HealthyHappy50 and another fabulous story! I am thrilled to welcome Alyson, a friend I met on Twitter, who has kindly shared her love of scuba diving and underwater adventures with us!
Hello Alyson! Have you always been sporty or is this new to you?
I have never been sporty and don’t consider myself sporty now. I do recreational scuba diving. There is a level of fitness required for healthy and enjoyable diving. But I don’t participate in any other sport.
Who or what motivated you to start again?
I was first intrigued and then fascinated by the scuba diving trips I was challenged to organise as part of a worldwide business itinerary for my boss, then CEO of the global P&O Group. He would take side trips for scuba diving, often challenging me to book a boat charter in parts of the world I hadn’t previously heard of. Then when I had the opportunity to visit P&O Australian Resorts, I realised it would be a complete waste not to learn to dive on Heron Island, a resort right on the Great Barrier Reef. I also had the opportunity to dive at the world famous Cod Hole, while staying at Lizard Island as part of the same trip.
How often do you go diving?
I’m a ‘fair weather’ scuba diver…. Well to be exact, a warm water scuba diving, so only dive on holiday in exotic locations! As a solo traveller I like to join a liveaboard diveboat, which means a week, 10 days or 14 days, eating, sleeping and diving on a boat in my chosen location. It gives me the opportunity to dive up to 5 times a day for the duration of the trip. In the last 2 years I have dived in this way in the Maldives, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands.
How do you feel when you are doing it?
I find scuba diving exciting, uplifting and exhilarating, and in calm waters it is very relaxing and almost meditative, moving with the swell and observing life on the coral reefs. Some of the faster dives in strong currents, or those with the bigger pelagic creatures, such as manta rays, sharks and whales, give a huge adrenaline rush!
How has diving enhanced your life?
Scuba diving gives me something to look forward to – I tend to book a trip almost as soon as I return from the last one! I am at my best when in and around the sea, so emotionally it is like coming home. Even at night I can sometimes spend an hour or two on deck just watching the water and the sky. During the day I am always in the sun, usually looking out for dolphins! I sleep like the proverbial log on these holidays. I tend to fall into bed exhausted only an hour or two after dinner, and I don’t wake until the first dive of the day, often before breakfast. As a single woman, scuba diving enables me to travel to destinations I might not otherwise visit. I know that as soon as we have done our first dive, there is something that unites me with the other passengers (generally all scuba divers) and we have plenty to talk about over dinner, ie what we saw on our dives etc. I also find that friends at home are always interested to hear about my trips, and see my pictures. New people I meet find it fascinating that I go off on my own and dive!
What are your biggest motivations?
My biggest motivation is just doing something I love. It feels so natural to be in the water. While my weight goes up and down, I am always aware that I need to keep a level of aerobic fitness to get the best out of my scuba diving, and to be safe. It enables me to travel to destinations I might not otherwise go to – Costa Rica is my bucket list destination!
What were or are your biggest obstacles to taking part regularly and how do you overcome them?
I have no interest in diving in the cold water of the UK. So, my biggest obstacle is financing an expensive hobby. All I have to take care of at home is booking my cats into the cattery! As far as work is concerned, because I am at sea most of my trip, my passion for scuba diving forces me to take a proper break from work as we don’t have a wifi signal onboard. On other holidays I am tempted to work through, but with a diving trip I ensure I have cover (I partner with another social marketer) to manage my client accounts while I am away. I reciprocate by covering her workload when she takes a much needed break with her family.
Who inspires you?
My inspiration is the sea itself. I just love to be in the water, fascinated by the creatures I see. I set myself an additional challenge of taking photographs. Not as easy as it sounds with moving creatures, and the water moving (hence moving you) in unpredictable ways. It enhances my diving skills as taking photos means you need to hold your position in the water, using your buoyancy (breathing) skills… without holding your breath, which would be dangerous!
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Scuba diving is non-competitive…Well, we only compete with our stories of experiences and sightings! In the years since I qualified (December 2001) I have had two serious episodes of ill health. I have experienced VTE (blood clots), the first in 2002 meant there was more than a year before I could return to the water. The second episode of VTE in 2010 followed a serious operation and I managed to get a bad dose of shingles too. So it was 4 years between diving trips. I had to undertake a dive medical and organise special insurance before I could return to scuba. So I am thankful for every trip I do. Now in my fifties (52) I realise that another episode of VTE may mean I cannot return to scuba, so I am making the most of my health and opportunities to dive now!
What are your next goals/challenges for the future?
The trip I have referred to as my bucket list trip will be a real challenge. I will be on a boat in the Costa Rican waters, it takes 36 hours to get to the island where we will dive – Cocos Island. We will have a week scuba diving there with various sharks and large creatures. It is most famous for schooling hammerhead sharks. And that is my number one ambition… if I’m lucky, I will see as many as 30-100 hammerheads in one dive. And on the dives they don’t show up, there will still be many other species to observe.
What are the 3 best things you love about your sport? And the worst?!
- I just love the feeling of being in the water, moving with the currents, and sometimes against them.
- Gliding over reefs in gentle currents, spotting creatures to photograph
- Hanging on to a rocky outcrop in strong currents to observe the manta rays or sharks at a cleaning station.
I’m not so keen on
- Bobbing around on the surface, tired after a dive, waiting for the boat to pick us up after we have been separated by strong currents!
- It can attract a particular type of boorish man who has something to prove… and is not keen women divers! That said I have only met a handful of those in over 300 logged dives.
- The expense… but then without that it could get very crowded down there!
Do you track your fitness/sport & has this enhanced your goals/enjoyment?
I use a Suunto dive computer, both as a safety requirement, and for recording statistics on each individual dive, and successive dives in a 24 hour period. I also keep a written dive log. After each dive I record details such as time and duration of dive, maximum depth, starting and finishing air levels to calculate air used during the dive, I also like to sketch the topography of the dive and record sightings, eg various sharks, eagle rays, lobster, and also the smaller reef creatures such as nudibranchs, striped shrimp etc.
What’s your favourite piece of kit?
Can I have two? I absolutely love my Aqualung BCD (buoyancy control device) jacket and matching fins.
What’s your favourite snack after a dive?
There is nothing nicer than coming out of the water to the smell of fresh cookies baked by the boat chef!
Do you have a favourite magazine/website/blog related to your sport?
I read Diver magazine from time to time. But I make scuba friends on each trip – we generally connect on social media, and I look forward to hearing about their trips and seeing their pictures. Each trip means some additional training and learning from other divers as well as the crew.
If someone was thinking about taking up a new sport/exercise but doubted herself or felt unsure about being judged or made to feel welcome, what would you say to them?
If I can do it, you can. If something has caught your imagination, you owe it to yourself to give it a go and find out how successful you can be. It’s a cliché, but so many sports are as much, or more, about the experience as the result.
If someone was interested in taking up your sport/activity, what practical tips/places/organisations would you suggest they do next?
I would suggest you do the studying, and pool work here in the UK. If you plan to be a warm water diver like me, book a holiday to complete the open water qualification somewhere lovely (rather than a quarry in the UK!). You can then spend the rest of your holiday gaining experience as soon as you have qualified.
Do you have a sporting or life motto/mantra?
Eat, sleep, dive.
Life, love, laugh.
Finally, this blog & community is called HealthyHappy50. With the lessons you have learned over the years, what would you tell your 20 year old self or 20 year old friends/relatives about health & happiness?
- Care less about what others might think.
- Be brave. (I was so unsporty I didn’t even want to try when I was young).
- Don’t wait to fulfil your potential and don’t rely on others to make you feel good. Physical health is important, but emotional health is even more important. Find something life enhancing that takes care of both.
- You don’t need the perfect body, you just need to nurture and care for the one you have.
Thank you so much for sharing your Scuba Diving story with us Alyson – it is really inspiring to learn about your love of the sea and attitude to life! If you would like to follow Alyson on her adventures, you can find her at @alysonreay on Twitter and Instagram or her website www.sassysocialmarketing.com. She is also recording her journey back to health @eating2health.
Jo x @healthyhappy50
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