Deep Breath

Deep Breath

Sofía Gómez is one of Colombia’s most tenacious female athletes, holding the record for the deepest free dive with two fins at 83 meters of depth. While pursuing her deepest dive, Sofía makes environmental causes a mission.

Sofia Gomez Uribe diving underwater with light

THE LURE OF THE DEPTHS

Sofía Gómez Uribe was born in Pereira, Colombia, in 1992. At the end of 2018 she established a new world record of freediving with two fins. She went down to 83 meters deep, in a dive that lasted more than three minutes.

Sofía started practicing water sports as a young child, but it was only in 2011 that she discovered her passion for a dangerous mode of living unknown to many, which provides images of rare beauty. Free diving in apnea should be considered as a high-performance sport, since it requires strength, precision, breathing capacity and a lot of mental focus.

The passionate way she talks about the bottom of the sea and the challenges she faces to overcome her personal fears makes the conversation with Sofía Gómez easy and captivating. Sofía decomplicates what is a challenge within the reach of only a few and that demands permanent sacrifices. At the end of the conversation, we find ourselves wondering about how hard it must be to test our own personal limits in an environment with no conditions for human life.

Black and White portrait of Sofía Goméz

SOFÍA GÓMEZ

Freediver

What is the most beautiful thing about deep sea diving?
First, the joy of reaching the goal I set for myself. Second, the loneliness you feel down there, but not in a negative way. People say: “The loneliness is such a drag! How sad! How depressing!”. But when you are in the depths of the ocean and feel the loneliness, you realise that you rely 100% on yourself. You have to trust in who you are, in what you can do. For me, this is very hard because trusting in what I’m capable of doing is very complicated [laughs]. The truth is that 90% of the time, I think I can’t achieve the things I want.

As a record holder, what do you think you need to do to improve your records?
Take more risks, carefully of course. Not being afraid of pushing my own limits or reaching the limit to know where it is, because I know I still haven’t reached the limit of my capabilities. I’m nowhere near my limit. Then, keep training. Training is the most important thing, not only physically but also mentally, which is the hardest.

Sofía hanging a Colombian flag under water.

What are the mental challenges in diving?
The hardest thing is to be able to focus on just one thing and control the negative thoughts, freeing your mind from dark thoughts. I didn’t use to meditate, but now I’m learning how to do it and it’s helping me a lot. I used to try to block out negative ideas and it didn’t work. Now, I simply let them flow. I’ve started meditating with an app called Headspace which I really like.

In a dive, how do you balance depth and time?
I trust in what my body tells me. Something that is very difficult for me, apart from the mind control, is equalising the pressure in my ears. I have been working on this and struggling with it all this time. For example, I did really well in one of the last competitions, I got to the bottom with plenty of air. Then I thought: “Well, if I still have air, I can still go deeper”.

“I know Istill haven’t reached the limit of my capabilities. I’m nowhere near my limits.”

How do you control the pressure in your ears?
By using the “Mouthfill” and “Frenzel” techniques. After some depth, the lungs are so compressed that you can’t release air to compensate, which is what you do… [she fills her cheeks with air]. This is a technique where you don’t use the diaphragm but rather the throat to force air towards the ears but, as the lungs are so compressed, this air does not get released. So, before getting to this residual volume − which is what we carry with us − I fill my mouth with as much air as possible. I close the glottis and, with that air in my cheeks, I go till the bottom. Then, if I get distracted, I swallow this air and that’s the end of my immersion because I can’t continue descending.

Portrait of Sofía Gomez Uribe

What do you want to achieve next in your career?
I don’t know if this may sound a little weird, but when I achieved my first record people used to ask me: “Well, what’s next?”. And I would answer: “What do you mean what’s next? I haven’t done anything!” I mean, you must always keep humble because this is the thing: to me, what I do is very important, but for others it doesn’t matter at all. I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve yet: I want to go down more than 100 metres, hold records in all categories and prove to myself that I can make it. More than anything else, the most beautiful thing is this inspirational role you play for people. It’s like saying: “Hey, I can do a crazy sport, in which I defy the laws of Physics and nature… If I can do it, you can also do whatever you set your mind to and work hard for.”

Was social media relevant in your recognition?
100% relevant. I think if I’d been a free diver twenty years ago, nobody would’ve known about it. Social networks are a really positive tool if you see them in this way, and I always try to see them as a positive thing. It’s very nice to be able to see all the people’s support. Of course, there are always trolls but, literally, there is one troll among thousands of comments from people who say: “How beautiful! How inspiring! Thanks a lot!”. And without social media, I wouldn’t have sponsors, I wouldn’t have as much visibility, I wouldn’t have what I have today.

Sofia Gomez Uribe diving underwater with light

Could you compare an immersion with life?
An immersion is a very short period of time, around three minutes. But it seems like an eternity because you’re not breathing. And in one immersion you can have a thousand thoughts crossing your mind. It’s up to you to let the negative thoughts go, to “turn them off”, to take all the positive ones and use them in a way that is beneficial for you. Life is like that too, it’s a handful of processes, you must have a very clear goal and not let those bumps in the road affect you.

Who are the three people you admire the most?
Perhaps, the people I admire the most are in sports. I admire Serena Williams because of what she represents for women, for mothers, for the African culture. She’s a woman who has broken a lot of barriers in a very elitist sport such as tennis, who breaks the stereotype of a female tennis player and right now is a mother and keeps on competing and winning. All that inspires me a lot. Plus, the strength she has and the fact that she is authentic, she doesn’t hide her feelings: if she’s angry, she breaks her racket right there and let’s everybody see she’s a real person with feelings. I also admire the cyclist Rigoberto Urán for his strength and tenacity, because he demonstrated that with effort, dedication and hard work anything is possible.

And the third?
Well, I know it’s a cliché but… my parents. My father is a very hard-working person, who also doesn’t give up in the face of adversity and always has a clear goal. My mom is also a very inspiring woman… I think that being a mother isn’t an occupation, it’s more like an extreme sport. It’s something no one gives real value to: “Oh, you’re a housewife, you’re a mom? You do nothing.” My mom used to have her own office, she’s an architectural designer, but quit her job to raise my sister and I as best as she could. My mother is a key part of what I’m doing now. She used to get up with us at 4.30 am to take us to the swimming pool, to training, take us to school, take us back to training, so she has been… It’s like she gave her life for us, so that we could be who we are.

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