The freedom of the sea is something we all cling to from the moment we’re exposed to it. As adults, we all look back fondly on that memory of the sea washing over our face, or the big wave that hit us so unexpectedly that we can almost still remember its intensity. Well, Mariam Shalan definitely clung to her love for diving until she became the youngest freediving instructor in the world and achieved the deepest free dive by an Arab woman two years ago.
Mariam Shalan started her journey when she first got into Scuba diving 11 years ago. For Mariam, she considered Scuba diving a fun activity to bond with her family, and it definitely rose to the occasion. However, Mariam’s freediving journey started 6 years ago when she went on a boat trip with her family. The moment Mariam tried freediving, it all clicked for her and she made the decision to become an instructor and compete in the sport.
So, what is Freediving?
Freediving is diving underwater with one breath of air. It is the act of depending on your lungs and your body instead of using a Scuba diving tank.
When Mariam tried freediving for the first time, she instantly felt the need to pursue it. She found in it the serenity and peace she didn’t find in any other sport.
“If I continue listing all my favorite things about Freediving, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop. That’s how beautiful it is to me.”
As a result of her love for freediving, Mariam co-founded Jeddah Diving School with two other freediving instructors; Osama Jouhari and Ishaaq Alfarsy.
Jeddah Diving School provides every freediver’s needs and is the first freediving-only center in Saudi Arabia. They offer a range of courses to 10+ ages and they also offer a freediving program so that the participants can test their capabilities and see if they want to join the courses.
Diving through the mental barrier
Freediving is a sport that requires tremendous physical strength and lung capacity. However, Mariam’s real barrier was the mental aspect of the sport. One of the challenges that she faced was being stuck at a certain depth and not being able to go beyond it. After a while, she was able to train her mind through meditation and the support of her coaches. She acknowledged the issue and knew how to face it, and as challenging as it was, she was able to get through it.
“As a Freediving competitor, you always face challenges. The road is never smooth, but you learn how to deal with each challenge you face.”
As a female athlete, Mariam has definitely been exposed to the stereotypical ideas about females playing a sport. Mariam prefers to block out the stereotypical comments she gets because “every athlete should control what to let inside their mind because we can’t control what others say to us”.
Despite all the challenges, Mariam always proved herself in her field being an 8 times national record holder, a continental record holder, and winning the title of the deepest dive by an Arab woman. Out of all these achievements, Mariam’s proudest moment is the first time she ever competed in a freediving competition.
“One of the main reasons I got into freediving was because of my mother”
Support and appreciation are as important as passion and drive. One of the cornerstones of Mariam’s journey is the support she gets from her friends and family; especially her mother being a Scuba diving instructor herself.
“Get out of your comfort zone even though it might not be appealing in the beginning.”
Nothing outside of our comfort zone is ever appealing at first. Mariam stressed that fact for younger girls who want to pursue freediving. She believes that freediving can teach a person many things, especially at a young age. And throughout it all, the person still gets to enjoy the beauty of the clear deep waters.
“ I love teaching people freediving, and I’d love for the school to be everything that a freediver needs”
Mariam knows what she wants to do in her future steps. She wishes to compete in world championships and to grow the school she co-founded. As teaching is one of Mariam’s joys, she would love to see it get bigger and become an asset to every freediver.