Stress, Rescue and Confidence

Two Trunkfish by Cathy Ulrich

I have a long-standing policy about diving. That is: I don’t dive where it’s cold and I don’t dive where I can’t see. Last weekend I did both.

Peter and I completed our certification for Diver Stress and Rescue on Saturday. It’s a class that we’ve wanted to take for a long time but never seemed to get around to. We could have done the training on one of our vacation dive trips, but unlike the Deep Water Diver or Night Diver or Boat Diver Certifications, you don’t really get to do much diving.

Stress and rescue training encompasses recognizing stress in divers, preventing stress situations from turning into panic modes, and rescuing divers when panic or accidents do happen. So when Peter asked me if I wanted to schedule the course while we were in the Caribbean, my answer was: “No, I really don’t want to spend my vacation repeatedly fishing your butt out of the water!”

Given those constraints, we decided to do the training here in Fort Collins at our local dive shop, High Plains Scuba. We got our course manuals a few weeks before the class, read them, answered all the study questions and started with classroom work on Thursday. Friday was the pool work – four hours of it. The three of us in class – me, Peter and Tess – learned how to recognize stress in divers and we reviewed basic and advanced dive skills to help us be even more confident in the water.

Greg, our instructor, started the pool class by reviewing things like taking our masks off underwater and recovering our regulators (the device you breathe through). Then we progressed to new skills. We had to take off our masks and breathe through our regulators while our dive buddies guided us in an underwater lap around the pool. Then we learned how to breathe from a free-flowing regulator. This happens when the breathing device gets stuck in an open position so air is surging out so hard that you can’t keep the mouthpiece in your mouth. I had to hold the mouthpiece to the side of my mouth and breathe the large bubbles coming off of it. Again, it was intimidating, but after I got the hang of it, I realized I could do it. All of the skill exercises we did were designed to build confidence and practice in case of an equipment failure.

As the pool practice progressed, we learned how to tow a tired diver to safety, how to subdue a panicked diver, and how to rescue an unconscious diver. Finally we learned how to do search patterns to find a missing diver.

Then the big day came, the open-water part. Remember what I said at the beginning of this post? So, when I dive, here’s what I like to see:

Swim Through by Cathy Ulrich

On Saturday, here’s what I saw.

Okay – by Cathy Ulrich

Not that I mind seeing Peter giving me the “Okay” sign, but this shot was taken about eighteen inches from his face!

Yes, we did our open-water training in our local lake – Horsetooth Reservoir – where the visibility is less than two feet and the water temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Good luck finding anything in there – much less a missing diver. And just so you know, most of the places where we dive in the Caribbean boast visibilities of 120+ feet and water temps of 85 degrees or higher. We had to borrow wetsuits from the dive shop because ours were not nearly enough protection for the cold water. Our tropical weight suits are 3mm thick so we wore those and then put a long sleeved 7mm suit over them. I felt like the Michelin man. This much neoprene makes it extremely difficult to move! Ok, enough whining.

Greg took us out to into the lake about 50 yards from shore where he had placed what he called a platform – really it was a long PVC pipe attached to buoys and augured into the bottom of the lake. We were to descend down to 15 feet and practice all the skills we had done in the pool the night before. Visibility here was just crazy-bad, but we all three passed those tests. Then we practiced all of the rescue skills on the surface.

Finally, Greg’s assistant Monica (who is training to be a Dive Master) descended to the bottom of the lake and each one of us had to go get her, bring her up and then lead a rescue operation. A funny aside here – we were told not to shout, “Call 911.”  Instead, we just gave a nod to Greg. Apparently a couple of years ago, some people on the beach by the lake heard one of the students say this. They called 911, and by the time the student had gotten the mock victim up from the bottom of the lake, there were multiple emergency vehicles and a helicopter sitting on the beach. Fire Rescue was not amused…

These are just some of the highlights of our training. It was an invigorating day (even with effectively 10mm of wetsuits), but very well worth the time and effort. By learning how to recognize stress in myself, Peter and other divers, it may be possible for us to prevent a dive accident on a future trip. And by practicing rescue strategies, I have a greater sense of confidence about what to do in the case of an emergency. As in any sport that carries risk, the more skill and awareness one learns, the more able one can be to make safe and effective choices.

It’s like life, really. The more I can be present, aware and conscious, the more I can make choices that serve myself and those around me.

And for you landlubbers, here’s a photo of the lake on that beautiful Colorado day.

Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins, Colorado – by Cathy Ulrich



©CathyUlrich and LargeSelf, 2012

23 comments on “Stress, Rescue and Confidence

  1. meggiemae67 says:

    Hi there! I’ve nominated you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger” award and there are some instructions to receive it here – I’ve check out your blog and really loved it! I’ve always wanted to go diving and your photos are beautiful!! Have a lovely weekend!


  2. russtowne says:

    Thank you, Cathy. I enjoyed it. Thank you also for including the funny 911 story.


    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Thanks, Russ. Another funny story – as we were hauling the gear back up the hill (with the extra neoprene we had to basically double our diving weights to be able to get submerged) a woman came up to me and asked “So what do you see down there?” My reply was simply , “Mud.” But we had a nice chat and then I resumed the trudge. 🙂


  3. A lovely account of an exceptional day.

    The only diving I have done was in Loch Fyne, which needs a fairly thick suit. My friend got me practising sharing a regulator, taking the mask off and filling it with air again- I needed told to exhale through the nose to do that. Good to be able to cope with dangers which might arise.


  4. I love reading your diving posts because it’s as close as I’ll ever get to it myself. Those trunkfish are cute–they look like they have gigantically long eyelashes. How many years have you been diving, Cathy?


    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      I love those trunkfish, too! I had never seen two swimming together like that before. Their expressions are really priceless.

      I have been diving since 1990 when I was living in Miami and dove in the Florida Keys. Since moving to Colorado, I don’t get to go but about once a year (and I’m not about to make it a habit to dive in Horsetooth just to blow bubbles). Even so, Peter and I have logged about 165 dives in that time. One of the reasons we wanted to get the Stress and Rescue certification is that we can now serve as volunteer divers at the Denver Aquarium. Not sure we’ll do that yet as it takes a lot of training and time, but at least it’s an option.


  5. what a great story and very informative, too…I didn’t know all that about diving..! I can only imagine how those suits felt!


    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Thanks, Elisa! I was going to get Peter to take a picture of me in that very thick wetsuit, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the class. I really did look like the Michelin man (or woman) complete with arms hanging way out from my sides. Truthfully though, they’re not that bad once they’re wet.


  6. This post was even fascinating to this landlubber-ing city slicker that’s a barnacle to concrete. Amongst your many talents you must also be a fish whisperer to get such a lovely shot of those two Trunkfish. Or, were they were just ready for their closeups?


    • Didn’t mean to include that extra “were”.


      • Cathy Ulrich says:

        I know, those Trunkfish look like some kind of Picasso-esque piece, don’t they? I don’t know if I’m a fish whisperer or they were ready for their closeups, but I was just glad that I had the camera ready and snapped the shot. And I know how it goes with those extra words…it’s like there’s a gremlin that takes over my fingers and I hit post before I realize what I’ve done.

        BTW, LA, why does LeClown call you “V”?


      • That silly fella and I have swapped the secrets of our non-nom de plumes. You can call me V.


  7. Le Clown says:

    I dreamt last night that my family and I were going on a very long and fantastic cruise, in one of those very large cruise boats. The thing was that we were in control of that large boat, At one point, we went diving, and the only thing I could see in the ocean where plumbing pieces of pipes… You’re experience was much more marvellous than my dreamy dive bit.
    Le Clown


    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Le Clown,

      That’s so weird because the only thing I could see on the dive in the lake last week was the large plumbing pipe attached to the buoys! But the experience was marvelous and I learned a lot more about diving. Aren’t those big, Cecil B. DeMille dreams fun?



  8. mypenandme says:

    Enjoyed! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  9. Love the pic in the canyon!


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