TT now has its first four national freediving records thanks to 30-year-old Shivani Goberdhan. The diver, who resides in Honolulu, Hawaii, represented TT at the 2019 Caribbean Cup in Honduras held from August 1 to 5 at West Bay and is living her dream.
News of her achievement first began spreading through a Facebook post, in which a submerged Goberdhan was holding the TT flag. She said she has been getting a lot of feedback since then, and that she wishes to be a role model to young women who wish to pursue similar disciplines.
"It's been really amazing to hear, especially from women, who are messaging me and telling me it's incredible that the first person to do this from TT was a female because it's such a male-dominated sport. I didn't have that female role model growing up to tell me it's okay to pursue these things. Now, my inbox has been flooded, people are pouring their hearts out to me and saying they have always been interested in this or never thought they could," she told WMN.
Goberdhan was born in Vistabella and lived on Sunkist Drive, Phillipine in San Fernando. She said her family ensured she and her two younger siblings were able to swim from a young age. She recalled always wanting to go fishing trips with her father and brother. At age six, her family moved to Toronto, Canada and she subsequently moved to Miami, Florida where her diving journey began.
“It (scuba diving) was something I had always wanted to do since I was a kid and I kinda waited until I had my first job so I could save up and get certified. When I finally moved to Hawaii, I started advancing my scuba courses until I hit rescue level, and because of that I was really exposed to the diving community.”
She then heard about a different type of diving—one that required no breathing assistance, and instantly became interested in trying something new, as she already did competitive paddling and surfing for leisure.
“I just thought it would be another dimension to my water sports and water athleticism. I would go snorkelling with my friends and every once in a while, I’d try to take this one big breath and go down and see how deep I could go. I could think about this time where I could get to like 60 feet without any real strain and last year, I heard from one of my friends about getting professionally involved in freediving.”
The process of freediving involves holding one's breath, diving underwater and resurfacing without breathing equipment or apparatus. There are several categories which include constant weight, variable weight and free immersion. Goberdhan said it is not only a physical challenge, but a mental one and that relaxation is key in succeeding in the sport, comparing it to yoga.
"There's so much you have to understand about your body. I know it sounds cheesy to say, but it's so different from every other sport. You cannot stress, you cannot be thinking about anything else, you have to be present. When you come and start training, you're not doing what you would do for other sports, which is pumping up yourself mentally, but you're doing meditation, making sure that your state is calm, making sure that you're not getting too excited, your heart rate needs to be down. The number one word in freediving is 'relax'."
In 2018, she went to Egypt to advance her training and become more qualified. She described the experience as “amazing” and said she was pleased to see several other women participating in a "male-dominated discipline." While there, she was also able to witness a freediving competition called the Red C Cup at Blue Hole in Dahab, which further inspired her.
“I watched girls, women set some national records for their country and that was really my first intro to the competitive side of freediving. Ever since then, I kinda just had this spark in me that I wanted to be one of those women as well and I wanted to see how far I could take us diving.”
At the Cup in Honduras, she participated in two freediving categories: Constant weight (35 metres) which she completed in one minute, 20 seconds, and constant weight with fins (38 metres) in one minute, 25 seconds. She had a recurring ear infection both in training and at the competition, which she said was a "road block" that she managed to overcome. She wanted to complete deeper dives, but was unable to because of this. Still, she described the Cup as an "amazing learning and networking experience."
During training leading up to the event, she also completed a course to become a verified freediving instructor. Her trainer, Cristian Castaño Villa of Colombia, has been freediving for six years and has been an instructor for five years. He is also a 14-time national freediving record holder.
He told the WMN, “The experience (of working with her) was great. Shivani is a great student, she’s very smart. The instructor course was a little bit stressful because it was right before the competition but she managed to finish all the requirements. We became friends.”
Goberdhan said while her family have some concerns about her participation in this type of sport, they are still supportive.
“Of course, culturally, it’s a very different thing that I’ve been doing. It’s not really normal for anyone or let alone a girl to want to pursue something like this. This is a pretty out of the box thing that I’m doing and, you know, my mom is still pretty sceptical about the safety of what I’m doing. She got to see the video of my national record dive and her face afterwards…”
When the Cup was over, she was asked to remain for the CMAS World Freediving Championships on Roatan island, Honduras to represent TT, setting two more national records. The event began on August 6 and ended on August 11. This time, her records were in the categories of constant weight with fins, which she did in one minute, 38 seconds and free immersion (35 metres) in one minute, 36 seconds. She said the athletes she met in Honduras are very supportive, and that many of them visited TT before. Those who haven't now wish to. She said she feels like an ambassador for TT and that it is "very exciting" to tell people about her home country.
Goberdhan holds a bachelor’s degree in speech and language sciences from Brock University in Ontario, Canada, and a master’s of science with concentration in speech language pathology from State University of New York. She said her intention was always to do something that she could "take back" to TT, and despite spending most of her life outside of her home country, she has and will always retain her culture.
"I was moved away from there (TT) as a minor but I grew up in a Trini household in a Trini community. Everything was always within my culture in this Canadian culture I grew up in, so I always wanted to go back and explore what life could have been for me if I hadn’t moved away."
She continued, "TT is known for the food, the music, Carnival, but there's so much talent in the water and out of it too. I watched the Pan American Games in Peru and saw how great our athletes have been doing and I really want TT to be known for water sports a lot more than it currently is."
She is hoping to inspire other TT citizens to try the sport and encourage those who always had the interest to begin their own journeys. After the Championships, she posted to Instagram saying, "Please, if there is anything at all you want to achieve, no matter how big or small, know that you owe it to yourself to try. Life is amazing if you just give it a chance."