WORLD FREE-DIVING RECORD HOLDER ŞAHIKA ERCÜMEN BROKE HER MOST RECENT RECORD AT TURKEY’S LAKE VAN IN THE EAST OF THE COUNTRY. ERCÜMEN, WHO WAS INSPIRED BY THE INCREDIBLE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE CURRENT OF THE LAKE’S ENDEMIC PEARL FISH, TELLS US ABOUT THE CHALLENGE SHE FACED.
At the invitation of Prof. Dr. Mustafa Sarı, my friend Tahsin Ceylan and I had attended a lecture at the university aimed at encouraging the local young people to engage in sports after the Van earthquake. We were touring around Lake Van when suddenly it occurred to us, “Why don’t I dive here?” That’s how it all began. At first we were only planning something like a test or demonstration dive, but the Office of Governor of Van Province wanted me to try to break my world record here. We started looking into it, but Lake Van is not particularly suitable for diving. Dives made in this lake at an elevation of 1,650 meters come under the category of “high altitude dives”. Your performance declines depending on how high up you are and how deep you dive. A dive to 60 meters in Lake Van is equivalent to a dive to 80 meters at sea level. In addition, the waters of Lake Van are very cold and extremely poor in quality. On top of that, the lake water is turbid. All these are disadvantages for diving, but the risks were assessed and weighed and we got down to business.
First I made countless practice and training dives with scuba divers who can descend to 60 meters. My approximately 50-member team was very professional and they worked day and night for the record. For me, it was a very difficult period psychologically. Previously I had broken the world record and made it into the Guinness Book of Records for swimming under water with the breath held. But Lake Van was a very difficult and previously unexplored dive site. I trained specially for months and started diving deeper every day. During the training I went to 61 meters unofficially and even broke the record in the Variable Weight Without Fins category.
Everything was going fine when I came down with a bad cold just four days before the attempt. Even breathing was torture, let alone breaking a record, and I was constantly downing serum. The last day my doctor said the record was a pipe dream and that I would never manage it. I was devastated… For an instant I thought of abandoning my attempt. Everyone was anxiously awaiting my decision. Before the meeting my trainer talked with me. He convinced me I could do it and in my head I broke that record. I was going to go out that morning and break it once again, this time officially. I went into the meeting with that energy and announced my decision: That record would be broken!
AND THE DIVE…
The morning of the dive I was still feeling horrible. We set out for the waters off Akdamar Island where I was going to attempt to break the record. The weather was good but I was completely indifferent to everything around me. I was focused only on the record. When the time came for the dive, I took a deep breath and dived in. On the descent I had a little difficulty equalizing the pressure, because I still had a terrible cold. Then, for a minute I couldn’t equalize at all. I couldn’t hear the voice of the diver who was supposed to let me know how far I had descended, so I abandoned the dive and came back up feeling very disappointed. When I looked at my watch, it showed 57 meters — just four meters short of the record, but I had been unable to equalize at that point because my ears were stopped up. Under the rules, I had the right to one more chance, so I decided to give it a another try before I lost my motivation. I was going to make the other dive in an hour’s time. I knew I could do it because I’d been preparing for it night and day for a year.
I got into the water for the second dive and the countdown started. I took a deep breath and went into the dive. This time it all went like a dream. I went down to the record depth magnificently. At 61 meters it’s very dark – pitch black in fact – but for me it was light because I was so happy about breaking the record. As I was coming back up I felt as if I was flying. I swam straight up to the people who had believed in and supported me. When I got to the surface and the judges also certified my record, everyone in the boat threw themselves into the water with their clothes on! It was an historic moment on Lake Van. A world record had been broken in the most difficult waters, our own beautiful Lake Van.
I realized once again that believing makes a person strong. Our limits are only in our heads. If you want to do something big, you have to dream big! I’m very happy because I lived my dream, and I’m going to keep on dreaming. No obstacle can stand in the way of a person who believes!