Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a Californian SCUBA diver who challenged herself to push the limits of underwater diving in honour of her late mother.
Human beings are biologically programmed to enjoy life above sea level- but Cristi Quill believes otherwise.
Though she may need a mask to see and fins to move – having a pack of oxygen strapped to her back 20-feet plus below the shoreline is more appealing than inhaling on dry land.
The ambitious SCUBA diver from San Diego, California's routine sees her dip into cool waters four to six times a week; it’s become so habitual for Cristi that floating in an environment of sand, fish and seaweed is just another Tuesday.
Many don’t understand what drives her back to water so frequently, especially with the extensive equipment and training required to be a deep sea diver.
But for Cristi, it’s who she is.
“I grew up near the ocean and developed a love for it at a very young age. Whether snorkeling or surfing with my dad, trips to Catalina [California] or fishing with my grandpa - very few activities didn’t involve the ocean.”
Her passion for aquatics is seemingly an inherited trait - Cristi grew up following in the footsteps of her SCUBA-diving father, pursuing a marine-centered career with the United States Navy after high school.
Though her role in the navy took her to several foreign lands, it wasn’t enough for the girl who knew she belonged in the ocean.
Cristi returned to home soil with a mission to certify herself in recreational SCUBA diving which would allow her to lurk in open waters as many times as she pleased.
“I once heard that only 1% of the world population SCUBA dives. That’s not a lot when you think about it,” says Cristi, “The normal, recreational diver may dive 4-6 times a month and there are divers who dive just a few times a year. Each time I dive I wonder: ‘what will I see or find today?’ I always think: ‘what if this were my last dive?’. The excitement stays with you. Each dive you surface from is a good dive, and gives you something to talk about later.”
It was that drive and anticipation that would lead Cristi to achieve one of the most incredible journey’s in her lifetime, being the first woman in history to attempt the record for Longest open saltwater SCUBA dive (female).
The idea came to Cristi after arguing with her sisters on a way to pay tribute their mother, who had just passed away after enduring a severe battle with cancer.
Cristi’s six siblings wanted to participate in a marathon for cancer research - but that was the furthest possibility from her mind.
“I’m a diver, I dive - I don’t walk.”
The matter was an emotional one for Cristi, having lost her mother just a year previously.
Though she had been in poor health since 2003, Cristi’s mother had been bedridden the last few years of her life with stage four breast cancer, receiving home care and dialysis in a state where none of her children lived.
“I didn’t have the greatest relationship with my mom and hadn’t seen her in a couple of years. We had only spoken to each other a few times since 2012 and told her I would come out to see her. However, she didn’t want me to miss my SCUBA class or have to restart a new one. We had had a nice long talk on Christmas Eve and a few days after New Years. I had promised I would get out to Texas, as my class was going to be ending soon and she said it was a deal.”
Regrettably, it would be impossible for Cristi to follow through on that promise.
The morning of January 19, 2014, she left her SCUBA class and checked her phone, seeing fourteen back to back missed calls.
“My cell phone had been blown up by all of my siblings. Except, I didn’t know which one to call back first. In my gut I knew she had passed, but it is very different until you hear those words ‘Mom is gone’.”
This traumatic period motivated Cristi to think of something personal she could do to help find a cure for cancer, and those who suffered like her mother.
“Too many men, women and children die from cancer and there are thousands who spend their lives battling this disease. Sometimes when you give money to an organisation, not all of it goes towards the ‘cause’, even though they say it will. I didn’t want the money raised to go to an organisation that would use it to buy paperclips, Post-It notes and office equipment. I wanted to know that every penny would go to the reason I had set up the fundraiser for.”
Cristi therefore decided to do what she did best, and took to the ocean’s depths.
“After I did some research and found out that a woman had never set the record for ‘Longest Open Saltwater SCUBA Dive’, I quickly got excited and knew I had to be the first. This was going to be the way I would honour my mom"
"This would be a fundraiser that everyone would be proud to be a part of and would never forget. I would do something I was good at - diving, and tie it to a great cause- The American Cancer Society. My hope was that the attention of a woman, in SCUBA, for at least 50 hours would capture enough attention for people to donate.”
Subsequently, Cristi began working on making her vision a reality.
After a few phone calls to the American Cancer Society, “Team Amazing” was formed: a group of people who had loved ones affected by cancer, determined to not only support Cristi in becoming a world record holder, but to also make sure every cent raised from the attempt went to finding a cure for the disease.
Coordination was essential for the attempt to be successful. As the first woman to ever attempt the category, Cristi wanted to succeed for divers, womankind, and her above all, her mother.
Six months prior to the attempt Cristi started training for one of the biggest dives she would ever take on.
With the help of instructors and members of Team Amazing, Cristi’s training sessions would begin at four hours underneath the water’s surface and continue until she was able to reach 16 hours.
Though this number didn’t come close to what she needed to the amount of time required of her to spend under water, it was essential to gauge how much food, water, and air tanks she would need along the way.
“I felt that if any team could pull this off, it was Team Amazing. I felt very confident that we would reach our goals,” said Cristi, “There’s nothing easy about cancer and we knew there wasn’t going to be anything easy about this dive.”
The morning of July 10, 2015 arrived and it was the day Cristi would enter what she lightheartedly called “Cristi’s Playground” – a roped off territory exceeding five meters underwater where she would spend the next 51 hours and 25 minutes of her life.
There was nothing trivial about this dive. La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California ran a standard temperature of 60 F, and she would require constant sources of heat, food blended in pouches, and a way to fall asleep without emerging above the surface.
“I was able to sleep underwater by pressing my face into the cot I used for my bed so my regulator wouldn't come out of my mouth. It took time but I mastered it! I ate and drank out of pouches. ‘Team Food’ [part of Team Amazing] blended all my food and put it in small pouches so I could eat it.”
According to Cristi, the first seventeen hours of the attempt was fun.
With many fellow safety divers visiting her in Cristi’s Playground, they’d play water tag, hold relay races, have thirty-second “dance parties”, roam the perimeter of the playground over 100 times, and try several times to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
But Cristi had a resolute goal of surpassing the 50-hour threshold; she wouldn’t come above water until that mark was met, no matter how sleep deprived and cold she became.
“I was thinking about everyone who was there helping out, and I how had to finish the dive. I motivated myself by thinking about the people who we had lost and those who continued to battle for their lives. I was constantly reminding myself that I owed this to my mom.”
With the reinforcement and encouragement of Team Amazing, Cristi splashed through the surface of La Jolla waters 51 hours later than when she first swam in.
Together, the team had completed their campaign to “Put Cancer Under Pressure” raising $4,500 dedicated to research, as well as helping Cristi make history in a way that profoundly honoured her mother’s legacy.
“SCUBA diving is huge part of my life. It has taught me not to panic, remain calm and the ability to problem solve under pressure. These are lessons I find helpful above water, in daily life,” said Cristi.
“I hope the message linked to this record is more about never giving up, even when you don’t think you can keep going. Anyone who has battled cancer can tell you, battling cancer is frightening, it’s painful and sometimes you start to lose hope. I’d say, please don’t lose hope. Fight as long and as hard as you can. I wanted this record because I wanted to do something in honour of my mom. However, it ended up being set by Team Amazing in honour of everyone who has battled and continues to battle.”