The hardest moments
In the months leading up to leaving home and entering the Diver pipeline, I knew I had an extremely difficult road ahead of me. I did everything in my power and used every bit of time I had to become the most physically fit version of myself I possibly could so the physical challenge of what I was about to do wouldn’t be a factor. I ran sprints up a levee on the Mississippi River, then I would run 3 miles to an area called “The Fly”. At the time, I was bartending part-time at New Orleans Athletic Club, which granted me access to the gym. Yes, New Orleans Athletic Club has a heavily frequented bar, but you know, New Orleans. I was fortunate to have access to a facility that had a great pull up bar, a huge area for core work, and a pool. It was perfect. I had one goal in mind, and the gym, levee, and pool was how I was going to make it happen.
Regardless of how much time I spent at the gym, one thing that was out of my control was the educational aspect. I had literally been diving once in about 6 feet of water and knew nothing about asymptomatic omitted decompression, pneumofathometer correction factors, gas laws, or any other subjects I was going to have to wrap my 27-year-old brain around. After dive prep, I made it to Panama City and distinctly remember the first week of psychics and medicine. It wasn’t all that bad except for that one thing — charting. I know that some people have brains that can handle calculating numbers and equations very quickly. I’m very happy for those people but I’m not one of them. At all. Simple charting is fine. Complex charting is what I struggled with. When it came time for the test, I gave it my all but ended up blowing the test because of my inability to put together detailed time and depth figures. Then I failed it again, and found myself in contingency to lose what I had spent so much time running, swimming, and working out to achieve. I didn’t mind doing flutter kicks or air squats as I was getting sprayed in the face with a garden hose. I remember one of the instructors saying, “This one just doesn’t care.” He was right. I didn’t. Doing bay swims and long runs only made me feel alive. Bring it! The only thing that shook my cage and actually put fear in my heart was academic failure.
I was allowed to “roll back” to the next class, but immediately the fear that the same exact thing would happen set in. I had two friends in dive school who I actually would allow myself to be vulnerable around and disclosed my fear of failing the next class. We talked for about ten minutes but the conversation came to a head when one of these friends said to me, “Why did you join the Navy?” I replied, “To be a diver.” He responded, “Then stay focused and become a fucking Navy Diver.” That was the first of many times that I realized worrying would get me nowhere.
I had three weeks until the next group “classed up”. I replaced the levee, gym, and pool with a calculator, pencil, and a friend who was willing to spend time with me repetitively calculating left and reached surface times until I got it right. I passed the second time around and didn’t let up on my studies for the entire time I was in Panama.
My diligence was worth it. Up until I couldn’t medically dive anymore, I enjoyed every single diving day. I loved every aspect of the job. Working in a weightless environment with your hands is something not many people experience, and mastering it is a true art form. At my first command, the thrill of walking onto a dive stage and being lowered down to the bottom of the ocean as you look up at a boat getting smaller and smaller is incomparable to anything. There is no other job or activity that you can pay for that will ever equate to that amount of fun, danger, and professional discipline ever. At my second command, the opportunity to turn wrenches doing various jobs on ships and submarines was a job I woke up happy to do every day. I never said no to a dive and was eager to hat up even on jobs that I wasn’t 100% ready for because on the job training is really how you learn diving.
I miss it. I still love it and now it’s up to me to answer that same question. What am I here to do? I can easily come up with two answers: be a great husband to my wife, and father to my children. The 3rd, be constant with 15 Fathoms and be the best business owner I can be. Beyond that, I don’t know. At this point, I’m still searching and in a bit of an in between phase, but what I’m not doing is giving up. There is so much in my life to be happy about. Will I always have admiration for diving? Absolutely. But as one chapter ends, another begins, and I’m anxiously ready to start my next big one.