Jessea Lu | Featured Freediving Athlete
Jessea is a world-renowned Chinese freediving athlete. “To me, freediving is a fulfilling lifestyle with three elements: Sport, Art and Science. Water is an enormous canvas where I have unlimited space to express myself and test out new ideas.” Jessea has a PhD degree and never stops challenging herself. She can hold her breath over 8 minutes and dive to 80+ meters underwater on a single breath of air, which has inspired many people to explore their own potential in diving. The beauty of marine life in the sea is what got Jessea into diving in the first place. Now she aspires to document, protect and be a part of our beautiful oceans.
Jessea Lu Wenjie’s career choice in her late 20s was breathtaking and audacious. Like many bright Chinese students, the Jiangsu native moved to the United States and obtained a doctorate in medicine in 2011. But then came a twist in the tale-Lu traded the serene confirms of a research laboratory for the extreme sport of freediving in 2014. And, in less than two years she is at the top of her game. She set two new records for China in freediving in Vertical Blue 2016, an international competition held in the Bahamas, and bagged a silver medal in constant weight apnea without fins in May 2016
Now, diving takes priority for the scuba diver, skydiver, and freediving instructor all rolled into one.
Below is the interview between Jessea and a reporter:
What is it like when you dive deep underwater?
It’s the most relaxing moment for me, although one has to overcome the mental challenges and physical discomfort of the process. The descent is like a free fall, but as you go deeper, the air inside the chest becomes condensed and dissolved into your blood stream, causing narcosis-like being drunk. When ascending, you have to stay sober as much as possible, to resist gravity and endure the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, and to overcome an increasing urge to breathe. For me the core part is learning to relax, to slow down the activity of your brain, which consumes about 20 percent of your oxygen, despite being only 2 percent of your body weight. Freediving is not comfortable for beginners, but I enjoyed the process once I learned to totally relax. It taught me the true meaning of relaxation.
Is it dangerous? Do you ever feel scared?
Yes and no. Freediving is different from most normal sports in that it almost has no margin for error. In freediving, when something goes wrong, it can do so really badly-even fatally. That’s why beginners must learn from a capable and qualified coach. A freediver needs to adapt gradually to the impacts on her body caused by water pressure-such as on the eardrums and chest-to challenge her limits step by step. Learning the skills-such as how to hold your breath as long as possible underwater, and streamlining your body-are essentials in the sport. As with driving, you need to master the basics and rules first before going on a highway. In freediving, going down to a depth for which your body is not ready is too risky. It is also important to stay calm and not panic underwater. You consume a lot of air when you panic, and can also make unexpected mistakes.
And you must be quite mentally strong?
I’m a rather tough person. I’m not the type to get frustrated over small setbacks. I think 85 percent of the game is mental and the rest is physical. The critical part is to perfectly connect and align mind and body: to make the brain as inactive as possible but remain cogent enough to control every physical movement, to avoid fatal mistakes. I’m constantly surprised by what I can achieve while freediving. Even the first time I tried to hold my breath underwater in August 2014, I could do it for as long as six minutes. I was lucky to meet a group of professional instructors who were inspiring and encouraging. I learned to challenge my psychological limits, thanks to my instructors.
Gradually, I was able to overcome anxiety and push myself hard to curb the physical urge to breathe. In four months I got my instructor’s certificate for freediving. By last May, I surprised myself by winning a silver medal on total points at an international freediving competition Deja Blue in Grand Cayman.
And is that where your life as a professional competitor started? Where you good at other sports?
Before I entered the competition I had no idea what I could achieve. I only tried to do my best in each of the six disciplines-Free Immersion, Constant Weight, Constant No-Fins, Static, Dynamic and Dynamic No-Fins. The unexpected with pushed me to excel. I wanted to push my limits, and started regular training only after Deja Blue. I also tried to draw on my experience as a medical researcher for a more scientific approach to training.
Why would you want to start anew when you’re already on a stable career path?
I’ve always been interested in the marine world and dreamed of doing something studies in the US, unfortunately there was no scholarship for marine biology. So, I accepted a place at the school of medicine at Indiana University. I had my first shot at scuba diving when I travelled to Hawaii in 2010, and got my open water diver certificate. I was once again fascinated by the sea. The beautiful coral reefs and rich variety of fish made me feel like I was realizing a childhood dream. Soon, I made up my mind that I would like to live by the coast, where I could work and dive during my spare time. I moved to Hawaii in 2012 after obtaining my PHD. I worked on post doctorate research for Hawaii University, and also joined a scientific diving programme. I became a scuba diving instructor in my spare time. In retrospect, it was a difficult decision for me to become a full-time diver. My family was also worried since it meant that I would have to trade a stable career for an uncertain future, including the safety risks that the sport entails. It’s true that given a choice most would take a road that offers least resistance. But I realize that a bold move could be a rare opportunity to make my life more colourful. In the end what matters most is that I enjoy freediving, teaching, training and competing.
“Jessea” Wenjie Lu, PhD.
Professional Freediver & Instructor
The Chinese National Record Holder
Lives in Hawaii