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Dynamic apnea, between ecstasy and death | The Mountaineer | Sports

Childhood dreams die in adolescence, although not always. Some, stubborn, survive and end up becoming uncontrolled obsessions. Alessia Zecchini couldn’t say when her passion for sport apnea took on a life of its own and she began to decide in her place. Her ambition, her need to break the records of the greatest, the Russian Natalia Molchanova (40 world records and 22 world titles), faced her not only with the most severe physiological and sporting challenges but with the very possibility of dying at every extreme immersion. In 2017, something changed forever. the deepest inspiration, a beautiful documentary recently released on Netflix and signed by the Irish director Laura McGann, traces the vital trajectory of the brilliant Italian freediver up to that date, a portrait drawn in parallel with that of the Irishman Stephen Keenan, two paths that circulate in disparate orbits until they the cobblestones of life allow them to connect. The contrast between both lives makes their final rapprochement even more unusual, and it can only be explained by the testimony of their respective parents, unwitting perpetrators of the fate of her offspring. It turns out that the protagonists of the documentary discovered the depths of the sea encouraged by her parents: in her case, the absolute crush marked and directed her existence, first in a swimming pool in Rome, then in the most sought-after natural settings. In his case, it was just a rite of passage that she would return to as she hit rock bottom in the worst period of her life.

Keenan is a man who does not want a life to use, who dreams of the example of the British biologist David Attenborough, who searches and does not find. Or that he finds to realize that after traveling the planet, he just needed to create his own roots, a foothold, stability and a reason for being in the world. He rediscovered apnea, insisted on breaking a record, created a diving school in Egypt and gave himself fully to the complicated task of ensuring the safety of athletes who compete in the dynamic apnea modality in the water, where the purpose It is descending guided by a rope as far as possible… and coming back alive. These, which descend to more than 100 meters deep with a single breath of air, suffer martyrdom on their return to the surface. It is ecstasy and death at the same time. Many lose consciousness and risk drowning: this is where the security team comes into play, guardian angels that accompany, pamper and save those who are most exposed. They do it by also pulling the lungs, since divers who use cylinders have to respect a decompression time before surfacing and would not be of help to a freediver in distress. Few athletes expose themselves as much and as often as the Italian Alessia Zecchini, in perpetual struggle between desire and fear of the darkness of the marine abysses.

Just one day after the work was released on the platform of streamingOn July 20, the Frenchman Arnaud Jerald achieved his eighth freediving world record by descending to a depth of 122 meters propelled by an ultralight carbon monofin, during one of the most prestigious events on the modality’s calendar, the Vertical Blue, in the spectacular Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island (Bahamas). Several scenes from the documentary take place in this dream setting, a natural hole on the beach, combining the agitation of the surface with the spectral and absolute silence of the depths, alternating between the frenzy of the surface and life suspended on its way to the bottom. nether darkness.

Alessia during one of the dynamic apnea competitions.
Alessia during one of the dynamic apnea competitions.

The work, which many already compare with the Oscar-winning climbing documentary titled Free Solo (Alex Honnold facing the wall of El Capitan, 1,000 vertical meters of granite in Yosemite Valley, in the USA, without a rope), is masterfully constructed from interviews and old videos and begins with a dialogue inside a car that travels to meet the ocean, led by Alessia Zecchini. While the Italian explains her relationship with death, her clear eyes stand out in the rearview mirror. In the next shot, those eyes emerge dead from the depths, spinning wildly in their sockets, looking for the same oxygen as the mistreated lungs of the protagonist. Apparently, among elite freedivers, these syncopes are common and are explained by a lack of oxygen to the brain. To delve into the extreme nature of the discipline, the documentary also reveals the possibility of suffering irreversible lung damage due to the accumulation of these extreme trips.

Natalia Molchanova, the undisputed queen of freediving, disappeared in the waters of Formentera in 2015, while she was enjoying a day of recreational diving. She was 53 years old and her body was never recovered. Her son, also a great champion of the specialty, could have died before it was not for the presence of Stephen Keenan, who was also close to dying to save him. Her gesture gave him an enormous reputation and her presence as an active security manager in the best world competitions. Thus he met Alessia, reanimating her. After her, she helped her grow as a world record holder. One challenge led to another, even surpassing Molchanova, but even after the death of the Russian, she had left behind one last challenge for the Italian: crossing the submerged rock arch of the blue hole, in Dahab, Egypt. A place where so much drama accumulates that some consider it more dangerous than Everest.

The filmmaker Luc Besson, director of the cult film the big blue (1987), fiction inspired by the rivalry between the freedivers Enzo Molinari and Jacques Mayol, surely intuited that reality could travel much further than one’s own imagination. Nothing more and nothing less than until you achieve the deepest inspirationtitle of the superb work by Laura McGann.

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