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'Swimming with the fishes' takes on whole new meaning

I've spent 30 years of my life holding my breath under water, and now someone I've only known for a few days is telling me to descend 10 feet in a pool and breathe continuously, deeply and slowly.

"You should be able to stay under water for a few hours on one tank of oxygen," the instructor said.
Yeah right, if I don't panic and take out everyone else in our five-person class while trying to get to the surface as quickly as possible. I'm all about "survival of the fittest."

Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, otherwise known as scuba, diving is something my husband has been begging me to try for over five years now.

Let's be honest, other than the fact that I have some preconceived notion people should not be able to breathe freely under water for long periods of time and at great depths, I also have a slight fear of putting things over my face. So, the idea of taking a scuba diving class was quite frightening. But, as I remind my loving husband on a daily basis, I do lots of things just to make him happy. (Yeah, he's laughing at this comment as is everyone else who knows us.)

Perhaps the real reason I agreed to this insanity was to see if I could actually do it - conquer a fear, overcome a challenge. I am an Irish woman, stubborn to the core.

Anyway, the main portion of the class was held on base, two nights a week for two weeks. At first, this didn't seem like enough time to teach me everything I needed to know to stay alive, while not damaging anyone or anything else in the water. However, after our first three-hour classroom experience, complete with readings, videos and quizzes, followed two days later by a three-hour, pool session, I was convinced I was learning quite a bit.

Dan Reinke, our Outdoor Recreation scuba instructor, made sure we knew all the basics before our first pool session. He went over equipment care and use, communication, the buddy system and general open water skills.

Our first night in the pool, we practiced many these skills until we were quite proficient ... at least we thought we were proficient.

In my case, the most difficult task involved the mask - one moment you can see as clear as day, and the next your mask is filled with water - a problem our scuba instructor was convinced we should all be able to solve on our own, under water.

Our second classroom session involved mostly dive table calculations and dive planning. We learned how to determine the depth and bottom time a person can physically handle, as well as how long a person should remain on the surface before diving again. This information is critical to safe diving. The body can only take so much 'pressure' ... water pressure.

The final pool session before our open water certification dives focused primarily on more advanced underwater skills - using others' oxygen to breathe, removing and replacing equipment, entering the water with a giant stride, and controlling buoyancy so as to prevent sinking to the bottom like a rock.

And all that was the easy part; we were in a pool.
Imagine the thoughts running through my head as my husband and I approached Lake Mead in Nevada. We were off to prove our scuba-diving worthiness in the open water. Although this "lake" looked like an ocean, I kept reminding myself "it's all that stands between me and my scuba diver certification."

For two days, about four hours a day, we reviewed all our open water skills, but this time 35 feet under water with only 5 feet of visibility. Not exactly all the pictures you see in scuba diving magazines of Hawaii's clear, blue waters and multi-colored fish. At least there were no sharks, and if there were, I never would have seen them.

Needless to say, I survived, and yes, I even enjoyed it. I am actually a certified scuba diver, much to Dan's surprise.
It's a whole other world down there, one definitely worth exploring. Take it from this stubborn, Irish woman from the Bronx, "swimming with the fishes" has a whole new meaning.