Sitting on the beach with my 20 year recognition statue from PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), I started thinking about the path that led me to where I am now.
22 years ago, as a college student, I spent the summer at the Mediterranean Sea. I didn’t have rich parents, but one of my friends worked there as a chef and invited me and helped me get a job at the restaurant for the summer as well. It seemed such a great opportunity for adventure and to learn English, that I had to say yes, and spend all my saved money on the flight to Malta.
Growing up Hungary, a landlocked communist country, opportunity like this was not something that presented itself a lot. Up until a few years before this, we were still under communist regime and we could not travel anywhere from Hungary other than to East-Germany and Russia.
I was always ready to jump into an unknown adventure and figure things out as we go.
It was my first time away from home, being without my family and the familiar things, places and food. Just walking on the beach made me happy, smelling the salty air, swimming in the ocean, playing in the tide pools with seashells and starfish... Eating a different cuisine, conversing in English with people from around Europe. Imagine a bird that was let out of a cage. There is no way of taking that feeling of freedom back.
I really wanted to go scuba diving in the ocean, but I did not have much money.
Back in Hungary, I have been in a dive team, competing in orienteering scuba diving in close to zero visibility lakes - sponsored by the Hungarian military. I logged about 500 dives in dirty waters before I first saw the ocean in Greece - just a few years back. I decided there and then that I want to live where there are palm trees, summer all year around and that I would make a living being a scuba instructor.
Within the first week on the island, I walked into a dive center close to my work. My heart was aching to be underwater, but my budget was not allowing me to pay 100+ dollars for a day of scuba diving. That was about my allowance to eat for about two weeks.
But I really wanted to go diving, so I worked up my courage and asked to talk to the owner. I explained her my diving background and that I would work in the dive shop doing the dirtiest jobs, if in exchange I could take my Divemaster training as an internship over the next three months. She said YES!
That summer changed my life. Basically, that moment changed the course of my life forever.
After becoming a scuba instructor and completing college, I started to travel the world teaching scuba diving. I lived on a white sandy island in Thailand (where they shot the movie “the Beach”), back-packed through Australia and landed a job in California where would luck shine upon me once again.
Aside from eventually managing dive centers in Los Angeles, I became a stunt woman - specializing in water. I double actresses when cars fall of a bridge and crash into water or when Drew Barrymore is on an ice diving mission saving whales in Alaska. I have been “eaten” by piranhas and spent a while in Pandora with James Cameron.
Sometimes I wonder how did I get so lucky.
Not too long ago, I read a book called Deep Survival. It really is about who lives, who survives and why in catastrophes.
Laurence Gonzales examined many natural disasters to try and figure out what makes a good survivor. Great stories of disasters combined with revealing science about the physiology and psychology of how we deal with crisis.
He looked into an airplane crash where everyone died while a young girl walked out of the jungle as an only survivor. In another example he recounts an avalanche where the most skilled instructors died and much less experienced people survived on the mountain. On a wild water rafting trip some really well equipped leaders didn’t survive, while others did.
What he concluded in the end was; that it really didn’t matter how experienced you are or how great equipment you have. One thing that was common in the survivors, was the ability to adapt to new situations.
I see somewhat of a parallel in these catastrophic events and the options I faced growing up. While I was never the best at anything nor am I rich enough to buy the best of anything… Over the years, probably adaptability became my best friend that lead me towards living the life that I do.