Below and beyond


POSTED: Monday, September 14, 2009

Just call them the dynamic—and static—duo.

Annabel Edwards and her daughter, Jessica Wilson, returned to Kona from Aarhus, Denmark, with a bronze medal and new records at the Fifth Annual Indoor Freediving World Championships.

At age 57, Edwards broke a continental free-diving record in the dynamic apnea no-fins category at 120 meters, while Wilson brought home the bronze medal in the static apnea division with a 6-minute, 27-second breath-hold.

“;That made it all worthwhile,”; said Edwards, who competed in her seventh free-diving world championship Aug. 17 to 22. “;We've spent so much time and money and training. It was tiring.”;

The two have competed competitively for nine years, winning three silver medals on the U.S. women's team and surpassing many records: Edwards broke four world records in her early 50s, and Wilson, 32, currently has the U.S. record for static apnea at 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

Static apnea is performed with athletes lying face down in a pool as they hold their breath as long as possible. Dynamic apnea can be performed with or without fins, while divers are measured by how far they can swim while holding their breath.

What is unique about this sport is that there are no age divisions, so athletes in their 30s can compete with those in their 50s, like Edwards and Wilson did at the latest World Championship.

“;It's wonderful because we're really good support to each other, even when we're competing,”; said Wilson. “;The trouble is when we both make it to the final, we had to compete at the same time and use two new coaches. It made it a little bit more challenging, but we were both happy with our results coming in three and four,”; she said.

Edwards' life has always revolved around water, as a scuba diver, lifeguard and former underwater hockey player.

“;I've been playing on the bottom of the pool for a long time,”; she said.

Her free-diving career started in 2000 when she was dared to touch a rock 100 feet underwater, and she recruited her daughter to create the first U.S. women's free-diving team.

“;We have such a wonderful group from our pod of free divers, and it's really like a religion. We come here on Sundays, get together and dive, and have lunch afterwards. If we want to train or just work out at the pool, we just call around and somebody's always ready to go,”; Edwards said.

Although many people believe that holding your breath for three minutes results in brain damage, Wilson, a registered nurse, said that the sport has little negative impact on the body.

“;Your body has a lot of mechanisms to sustain itself,”; Wilson said. “;Your heart rate slows down as you slow your breath to possibly less than 40 beats per minute to save your oxygen. Your body increases your cerebral blood flow, so you actually get more oxygen to your brain.”;

She said that free divers also use safety procedures including frequent signals to determine consciousness and safety partners for depth dives.

Edwards admits to blacking out four times underwater and having been revived by her daughter, but is not sure when she will stop competing.

“;It's hard to quit,”; she said. “;I can quit competition, maybe next year, but I've been saying 'next year' for a while.”;