Monday, August 11, 2014

Happy Birthday - Audrey Mestre

Today would have been Audrey Mestre's 40th birthday.

Audrey Mestre (11 August, 1974 - 12 October, 2002) was a world record-setting free diver*.

She was born into a family of snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, and at a very young age, it was clear she was destined to spend her life in the water. Her grandfather would take her diving on the south of France every summer, and paid for swimming lessons in the winter. She was swimming by the age of two, and won a 25-meter swim match at the age of 2-1/2! By age thirteen was a seasoned scuba diver.

When she was still in her teens, her family moved from France to Mexico City. She studied marine biology at a university in La Paz, Mexico.
I was 18 years old and I was leaving my family for another love: The Sea. Thanks to the sea I could tolerate the loneliness and anxiety of being away from my loved ones. To forget the absence of my parents and my isolation due to a different language that I barely spoke or understood, I would go diving. Every time I dived I would find new attractions, new satisfactions. Back on land, I would submerge myself in books and magazines specialized in diving and marine biology.
She met renown free diver Francisco Ferreras, first becoming a member of his safety team, and then beginning a serious relationship with him. She moved to Miami to live and work with him, taking up free diving herself. Her remarkable ability was evident almost immediately, and she was soon breaking records. In 2000, she broke the female world record by free diving to 125 meters. In 2001, she broke even that record, by descending to 130 meters.

Tragically, her life and free diving career was cut short suddenly in 2002, during a practice dive attempt to 171 meters. At the bottom, her lift balloon failed to inflate, and it took nearly 9 minutes for her to surface. She was pronounced dead shortly afterward. The entire diving world was shocked by her sudden death, and accusations floated around blaming it on her husband and his lack of preparation. Some even went so far as to suggest that he'd played a role, that they'd been headed for a divorce, and he'd either sabotaging the lift balloon or at minimum didn't pay appropriate attention to the safety procedures.

She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered at sea. In 2002, she was inducted posthumously into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Her life and career were chronicled in ESPN's No Limits as part of their Nine for IX series.

*Free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on a diver's ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.

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