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South African undertakes deep dive for world record and depression

South African free diver Amber Fillary.
South African free diver Amber Fillary.
Image: Facebook/Amber Fillary

South African free diver Amber Fillary, 46, will try to break a world record on Thursday in an icy lake in Finland after struggling with an eating disorder, alcoholism and bouts of suicidal depression.

"I am under no illusion that this is not going to be easy. In South Africa I managed to swim underwater for up to 135m without taking a breath, but in near-freezing temperatures your muscles are slower, so swimming is much more challenging as you use more oxygen"” Fillary, whose record for holding her breath under water is six minutes, said on Wednesday.

Johanna Nordblat is the current record holder who dove 50m under the ice in 2°C temperature water in March 2015 wearing only a swimsuit, mask and cap.

Nordblat challenged Fillary two years ago while Fillary was getting her world record attempt into place, but Fillary declined as she was struggling from depression.

Drilling the holes in the lake I will do my record attempt at Preparing for my attempt at the...

Posted by Amber Fillary on Wednesday, 20 March 2019

"I eventually went to see a psychiatrist who prescribed medication that helped me to better cope with the illness. Once I was back on my feet, I decided to accept Johanna’s challenge"

Fillary finds diving to be a meditative experience which calms her mind.

"Free diving requires you to be in a calm state of mind, because the moment you become tense, you lose your ability to stay underwater for long periods," Fillary said.

"Depression robs you of your confidence and makes every task you attempt seem overwhelming … I have learned that the human body is able to achieve so much more than imagined if we can overcome our fears and mental barriers."

Fillary wrote on her GoFundMe crowdfunding page: "Although I am hoping to break the record, this attempt is more about showing other people, who suffer from similar life challenges, that we are all able to do what is perceived to be impossible."

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