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When passion leaves you breathless – about freediving by Polish champion, Michał Bochenek

On 1 – 3 December, the VIII Barborkowy Silesian Cup in Freediving was held in Rybnik. Our enthusiast, Michał Bochenek, an engineer in Dynamics365 Competency Center from Sii Kraków, finished the contest in 2nd place in the general classification. The very same guy will represent our country in the World Championship in Freediving in 2018. Let us introduce Michał – one of the best freedivers in Poland, who’ll tell us all about his great passion.

Katarzyna Domańska, CSR Manager at Sii: Is this safe?

Michał Bochenek, Senior Software Engineer at Sii: Freediving has got itself a bad name over recent years as the ‘most dangerous’ extreme sport. On 2 August, 2015, on the Ibiza coast, the multiple medalist and world record holder, Natalia Molchanova, was drowned. She had been diving with a group of friends, but on that particular day, she decided to go diving on her own and she wasn’t attached to a harness. Her body has never been found. On 9 April, 2017, Martin Valenta was found unconscious at the bottom of the pool – unfortunately, despite the actions of the emergency services, it wasn’t possible to save him. Martin was the Czech champion and record holder, who, in 2016, won both the Polish championship and the Silesian Cup. He had been training on his own on the day of his death. This sport does not forgive recklessness and showing off. That’s why the rule from the start is: never dive alone.

K.D.: Quite a start…

M.B.: I think that every sport, when practiced professionally, becomes extreme. And in all sport, even amateur one, there is a risk of injury, which may be fatal. Freediving is therefore no different from any other sport. But this is very peaceful sport in general. Just imagine yourself lying in the water, battling against yourself, minute by minute, trying not to lift your head to breathe in air, which is only a few centimeters above you. That’s what one of the competitions in this discipline looks like – static apnea (STA). It is also the best way to describe what freediving is: complete control over mind and body.

K.D.: So what exactly is freediving?

M.B.: Freediving is different forms of diving, in the pool and in open water, without the use of diving equipment that allows you to breathe underwater. In order to freedive, you are only allowed to use the air in your lungs and the oxygen supply in your blood.

K.D.: What made you convince yourself to do this? Was it to break a record, or was there something else you like about it?

M.B.: Freediving in a pool is only half of this sport, the other half is the unlimited joy to dive in seas and lakes, where you can see the marine environment as if you were some kind of aquatic mammal. There is a completely different world under the water: natural, beautiful and fascinating. Personally, I most closely associate diving without an aqualung with freedom. You dive into the water, you don’t have anything with you apart from diving bubbles, masks and fins, which do not restrict your movement. You don’t have any of the heavy classic diving equipment, which, contrary to appearances, restrict your time underwater to the amount of air in the tanks.

Nothing makes a noise, you don’t hear the sound of bubbles from automatic breathing. I dive whenever I want to, and stay underwater for as long as my body allows me to. I can dive a number of times and observe the underwater world just like other aquatic life-forms, and hear only natural, ambient sounds.

K.D.: Like a fish to water. How did it start?

M.B.: It is said great passion begins in childhood. Even my former interests show that it has never been possible to drag me away from water. Practically every school vacation was spent in the Zakopane area – hours in the frozen Czarny Dunajec stream had left me with an inflamed kidney. At high school, I would sit for a time at the bottom of the swimming pool, three meters underwater, picking up smaller and smaller objects, or else I would swim the length of the pool underwater just for fun. Now, I know, this is called freediving.

After studies, I began work in Kraków. Because I live with my family in Jaworzno, I would have to commute between these two places every day. I did carpooling and travel with another Michał, who was a technical and cave diver. During our commute, we would talk about diving for hours: me about the theory, and Michał about the experience. Then, one day, during our conversation we came to the subject of freediving – and that’s how we began training together.

That was in 2012. After meeting regularly for two years, mainly in swimming pools, together with a group of friends, we enrolled on a freediving course run by Agata Bogusz (a Polish freediver, pupil of the 17 times world champion, Umberto Pelizzariego, Polish record holder in three of the disciplines acknowledged in AIDA freediving competitions – according to Wikipedia). This course changed my understanding of freediving.

K.D.: What has changed?

M.B.: I got to know the physical and psychological aspects of freediving, and changed my attitude towards training. I began to focus on my feelings rather than on the physical aspects. I planned my training carefully, together with the time I spent between training sessions: what I do, what I eat, when I go to bed. If some detail of my training seemed to have been unsuccessful, then I would do some analysis to try and work our why. When I had worked out the reason for this, then I would try to stop it from happening again in the future. I now understand how important relaxation and winding down is. When you get into the water, you have to stop thinking about everything else. There’s only you and the water.

Training in the following year – despite progress and an improved technique – didn’t bring me much satisfaction. The reason for this was the uneven progress in our group: I was at the front, and the others weren’t as motivated with regard to the tasks ahead of them. I didn’t have a proper partner to exercise with.

Then, unexpectedly, before the end of the vacation in 2015, Agata got in touch with me. She told me she was doing the final course of the season and there was a place on the course AIDA 3 – would I like to join. I met Jacek on the course, then Justyna, and then everything began happening at a faster pace. A week after finishing the course, I began training with Jacek and Justyna. Soon, a little brought a lot in terms of results. Our condition improved dramatically, we improved our results and techniques, but, above all, we became a team for the good times as well as the bad.

K.D.: Why your partner and a team are so important?

M.B.: In freediving, the most important thing is trust in your partner, your buddy. He’s the one who will save you and pull you out of the water if anything unexpected happens, he f*** you up (sorry, but that’s the most suitable phrase), if you want to make some stupid mistake. He helps you if you need support. The three of us began as strangers, our enthusiasm inspired us all, we became a team with a common goal – to take part in what is said to be one of the most dangerous sport in the world in the safest possible way. And safety and health has been the engine for all our successes: if you are in form then swim for the record, if you’ve had a bad day – pull yourself together, next time we’ll achieve more success together. Health is what comes first.

K.D.: And you are in great form, you do well in competitions…

M.B.: In our 1st joint start – then under the name JJM FT: Justyna, Jacek, Michał Freediving Team – after just three months training together, we achieved 4th place in the Barborka Silesian Cup in Freediving, in 2015. I had found myself in the top ten in my first event. My competitive achievements can be seen on YouTube.

Then everything was going swimmingly: joint swimming pool training, open water training in Zakrzówek in Kraków and Koparki in Jaworzno, or else in some warm sea abroad … In 2016, in the second competition I’d ever taken part in, I took 3rd place and the title of 2nd vice-champion in the Polish Pool Championships in Lublin. The end of the year, also brought us another 4th place in the team competition in the Silesian Cup, and I personally achieved 3rd place in the rankings. In the meantime, our team had changed its name to No Tea No Free.

K.D.: Where does this name come from?

Calm is important in freediving, if you swimm or just rest in the water without movement. It is difficult to stay warm – despite wetsuit you can quickly get cold. That’s why a flask of fruit tea has become an essential part of our training. We’ve even got it in our logo: if you look carefully, you’ll see it in the so-called ‘foot pocket’ of our fins (the place where you usually put your feet).

K.D.: There’s also something else very interesting next to your logo.

M.B.: Yes, the Sii logo. When I joined the AX team in Sii (now Dynamics365), I began a negotiations concerning the possibility to put the Sii logo on our fins, as part of the project Passion Drives Power People. We carried on talking while I was competing at my natural rhythm. While this was going on, I achieved 2nd places in the Czech Pool Championship in Pardubice and 2nd place in the Polish Pool Championships in Opole.

Finally, I managed to compete for the first time under the Sii logo in the Jaworzno MiniComp where Jacek came 2nd and I came 3rd.  And finally, we all took part together as a team in the VIII Barborka Silesian Cup at the first weekend of December and we took the 3rd place as a team. I was the 2nd in the general classification.

K.D.: Really well done! You’ll represent Poland in next year’s World Championships in Freediving.

Thank you .

K.D.: How much training do you have to do to become a leading freediver in Poland?

M.B.: At the moment, I train six times a week – that’s a good enough amount of exercise to make solid progress. It’s enough to secure excellent results – I’m a Polish Vice-Champion and in the world top 20. But to become better still and beat the world record will require an even greater sacrifice from myself and my family.

K.D.: How do you manage to combine working in IT, your family, and your passion for freediving?

M.B.: I’ve been involved in the development of ERP applications from the very start of my career. Currently, I am working as part of the Dynamics365 team as a Senior Developer. I cooperate with a few of Sii’s clients as a consultant and programmer. But, in order to combine work and training, obviously I have to divide my time in a responsible manner: squeezing six training sessions a week between work and family life. Sometimes, I lack strength, then I let myself go a bit and give myself a break to recuperate – I give up exercising at the weekend. Thanks to the early time, it does not interfere with my family very much and doesn’t interfere with my work either, but unfortunately it seriously restricts my social life.

K.D.: Is any special predisposition required to dive in this way?

M.B.: You don’t need any special predisposition to start – you only need to want to do it. Physical strength doesn’t play that important role. Your lung capacity is of little importance, as it’s far more important to learn breathing techniques, have a flexible chest and be able to stretch your muscles – everything else comes through practice.

K.D.: If one of our people wanted to take it up, what then?

You don’t need to have completed any formal course to take up freediving, but training will provide you with some very necessary information, on how to take up this sport and not do yourself any harm. It’s best to start with someone experienced, so search for freediving groups via Facebook: write to Stowarzyszenie Freediving Poland (the Poland Freediving Association) or to Freediving Polska. The Association are very willing to respond and help. Joining a group is the way to build the foundations. Friends (male and female) will advise, show and explain what’s necessary, and, more importantly, look after you. If you want to go on a course or enter a competition, then you require a medical certificate. You must be examined at least once a year. You can get such a paper from a doctor specialising in diving or any other doctor, but for your own safety, you should take some additional tests: blood, throat, a chest X-ray and a heart examination. If this isn’t done properly, then you might be in danger of damaging your health or even your life. But the most important thing to remember is the principle: “Never Freedive alone!”

K.D.: Thank you for the conversation! Once again well done – we’re going to pay very close attention to how you’re getting on! Best wishes.

M.B.: See you underwater!

Follow Michał’s progress and adventures on his FB and blog.

Article written by: Katarzyna Domańska

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