Claire Walsh’s website features a tranquil scene of her heading for the surface of a turquoise ocean. Underneath, she writes: “How long can you hold your breath? I can hold my breath for six minutes. That’s the length of Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m a freediver; someone who holds their breath underwater.”
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The Leixlip athlete has been to a 60m depth and back up again without breathing apparatus — that’s the height of Liberty Hall in Dublin.
The Kildare superhuman has been training at the Blue Hole in Eygpt for the AIDA Depth World Championship in Nice which runs from September 2 to 15.
Claire recently spoke to the Leinster Leader about her preparations. When asked about her Kildare roots, she replied: “I’m from Lovely Leixlip, growing up in Ryevale Lawns. Mum and dad still live there so I’m pretty sure my car drives itself there at this stage.
“I’ve two sisters and a brother and we went to Scoil Bhríde in Leixlip and then the girls headed down to St Wolstan’s in Celbridge. I moved out of Leixlip in my 20s, but it’s still home.”
Claire ran the gospel choir in Leixlip for years, of which her mum is also a member, and she still gets drafted in for choir nights out.
So, how did she get involved in such a daring sport?
“I started off scuba diving in 2015 and saw some amazing places! I loved it but I always found the equipment quite cumbersome. Someone suggested I try freediving instead. I knew nothing about it but was up for giving it a shot,” she explained.
“I googled where did courses and booked a bus, train and boat to an island off Honduras to do my beginner course in freediving. From the get go, I was hooked.”
This begs the question — why does she enjoy it so much?
“I still find this question hard to answer without turning into that emoji with hearts in their eyes. I love freediving.
“Firstly, there’s an incredible sense of freedom being underwater like that. It’s exciting, humbling, frustrating, exhilarating and peaceful all at the same time. Learning to hold your breath and take it underwater requires a level of mental strength, awareness and focus like no discipline I’ve experienced.”
She added; “Busy minds, and racing thoughts become amplified underwater and manifest in physical tension.
“Freediving challenges me to turn my focus inwards, achieve a state of softness, relaxation and quiet and only then will your mind allow your body to visit depth. Whether I’m in water or on land, freediving helps me live better.”
Claire Walsh in action
Claire said training has been going well but now as the competition is getting closer, her nerves are starting to make an appearance so the mental preparation becomes just as important as the physical.
“I moved out to Egypt to train at the end of May. I train in a two days on, one day off cycle.”
A typical training day looks like this: up at 6.30am; 6.45am — stretch and mobility; 7.30am — lung stretches; 7.45am — meditation; 8.30am — taxi to Blue Hole. Training sessions then can last anywhere between an hour and two and will consist of two warm up dives and a ‘target dive’, and possibly another one to work on technical aspects.
“That may not sound like a lot, but going to depth can take a toll on the body and to avoid fatigue, you work on conserving energy,” she emphasised.
After that it’s time to get out of the sun.
“Most people nap in the afternoon. I usually catch up with my beloved air conditioning unit (it’s in the 40s here!). Coffee and backgammon are my afternoon unwind activities.
“I usually stretch again in the evening and maybe do another short mindful meditation (I’m all about the Buddhify app). Lights out is pretty early so bed time is usually around 9am... and then it’s up and do it all again.”
Claire will be competing in the three depth disciplines: Free Immersion (FIM) — Pulling down on a rope; Constant Weight (CWT) — Swimming down with fins; and Constant Weight No Fins — Swimming down without fins.
“This (CWNF) is the trickiest one in my opinion. Considered to be the ‘purest’ discipline, it presents a challenge mentally and physically on a whole new level,” she pointed out.
Claire is proud to represent her country
Claire is thrilled with the support she has received.
“My Leixlip crew (outside my family) are mainly my pals from the gospel choir. I think if I said to them ‘lads, I’m going to go up Grafton Street holding my breath, whilst working puppets and singing through my nose’ they’d support me. Whatever I do, no matter how random or out there it appears, I know they’ll support with gusto,” she said.
“Outside that, I’ve received lots of messages on social media of support and encouragement. I’ve also met some lovely people who have wanted to hear my story and have given me the opportunity to chat about freediving; the sport that I feel passionately about and love. It’s really quite overwhelming and makes me all the more proud to be flying the tri colour in Nice.”
Claire is self funded and it’s a huge financial undertaking.
“Early on I got a sponsor called Timewise Systems and without their support training, from a financial point of view, wouldn’t have been possible... let alone competing. I set up a Go Fund Me to help with costs and people have been incredibly generous. The government don’t provide funding but in the same breath (no pun intended) why would they? Freediving is relatively unknown as a competitive sport in Ireland and we don’t yet have a AIDA Ireland (governing body for competitive freediving). My hope is to set it up officially with a few other Irish athletes and grow the sport of freediving in Ireland.”
Follow Claire on instagram, facebook @clairewalshlife and www.clairewalshlife.com.
Her Go Fund Me page is www.gofundme.com/f/irish-athlete-at-freediving-world-championships.