Lilly Ryzebol: Overcoming Fear through Freediving

Lilly Ryzebol: Overcoming Fear through Freediving

The Deepblu Diver Spotlight series brings you the stories from our community of divers and ocean lovers. This week we got to talk with Lilly Ryzebol about her story. Lilly is the Canadian National Freediving Record Holder in Dynamic Apnea with Bi-Fins (117 m) as of August 31st, 2019 and at the time of this publication. 

Deepblu: For those in the Deepblu dive community who might not be familiar with your work and career, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Lilly Ryzebol: I began my underwater journey as a scuba diver and then fell in love with freediving. After becoming a certified freediver, I decided to start competitive freediving for fun. Little did I know, attending regular training sessions and competitions, I ended up becoming Canada’s National Record Holder for Women DYNB (dynamic bifins). Also, I am the AIDA Canada Provincial representative for Ontario which means I help promote the development of freediving in Ontario. I enjoy freediving because it helps me keep calm and releases the stress in my life.

When I am not in the water I enjoy many other hobbies which include: singing on my church worship team, learning different languages, rock climbing, longboarding, painting in watercolour and geeking out over new technology.

DB: What made you decide to attempt the Canadian National Record for Freediving Dynamic with Bifins?

LR: I always enjoyed DYNB as a freediving discipline. I train regularly with my coach, Andrew Ryzebol, who started out as my instructor and now is my husband! My first DYNB competition I experience a minor black out and due to that event, I was embarrassed and discouraged to continue freediving. However through perseverance and consistent training, the set back turned into success of obtaining not only my personal best but also the Canadian National Record. I really didn’t plan on trying to break any record, I always go to competitions with the goal of competing with myself and to learn my limits as an athlete.

Lilly and Andrew Ryzebol | Photo Credit: Apnea City

DB: What was the most difficult part about training? Can you explain the challenges of diving dynamic as opposed to constant weight?

LR: Returning to training after my blackout incident was difficult because of the fear that it would happen again. The key thing was being in the water often and to build up my confidence by doing a max attempt days after the competition which helped me conquer that fear!

In constant weight I have the breathhold capacity to go deeper but my barrier is equalization. The challenge in DYN is not equalization but in fact, physical conditioning of my leg muscles and calculating my mental and physical limits before the onset of a blackout.

DB: You had an incident where you almost drowned as a child during a family trip to Indonesia. How did you overcome your fear of the water after such a traumatic event?

LR: Growing up I was ashamed that I didn’t know how to swim and avoided pool party invites from school friends because of my fear of the water. After my mother passed away my faith and community helped me make a brave decision to conquer my fear which paralyzed me all my life. The journey led me into discovering my passion for the underwater world and I found the love of my life, my husband Andrew Ryzebol, who is now my coach and training buddy.

DB: Many people say that freediving is therapeutic in many ways. Has freediving helped you conquer any difficult moments in your life?

LR: My mother was my best friend and she passed away after battling cancer. My faith and decision to start freediving helped me while I was grieving the loss of her life. The water helps me focus and be calm. After a freediving session at the pool, in a lake or in the ocean it makes me feel alive and grateful of being part of this magnificent creation.

DB: Besides freediving competitively, what other forms of diving and underwater activity do you like to participate in?

Underwater activities I enjoy doing are: spearfishing, scuba diving, surfing, sailing, swimming and snowboarding on frozen water aka snow 😉

Photo Credit: Geoff Combs

DB: You have traveled to many places around the world for diving. Can you share some of your favorite locations that you think our Deepblu community should add to their bucketlist?

LR: Some great diving spots to check out would be:

  1. Exuma, Bahamas
  2. Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico
  3. Utlia, Honduras
  4. Ginnie Springs, Florida, USA

DB: As you’re currently based in Toronto, Canada has some amazing dive spots as well. Care to share some of your favorites?

LR: Some favourites would be:

1. Tobermory, Ontario
2. Lions Head, Ontario
3. Wiarton, Ontario
4. Crystal Beach, Ontario

DB: What’s next for you? Anything exciting coming up in 2020?

LR: Andrew and I are training for more competitions and planning warm water dive trips. We launched our website Ontario Freedivers, go check it out! Also I recently got certified as assistant instructor so, Andrew and I are offering more courses for freediving, spearfishing and ice expeditions with our buddy Geoff Coombs for underwater photography. It has been a busy and exciting start to 2020.

DB: Any advice you’d like to give someone that would like to get into freediving but they don’t know where to start?

LR: The obvious advice is to take a course from a professional and get involved in a diving community to find dive buddies, because you never should dive alone. However, here are some tips from my personal experience on how I turned from a non-swimmer to a confident freediver:

  1. Be in the water as much as you can to get comfortable, whether it be swimming in a pool or in open water. Sometimes I would just be in my pool standing, floating or playing since I was so scared of the water because of my past drowning experience. This helped me build confidence.
  2. When you don’t have a buddy, do surface swimming with your fins to build the right muscles and improve technique.
  3. On dry land do static tables or apnea walks to build your CO2 tolerance.
  4. Watch as many freediving videos or admire underwater photography to get inspiration and motivation.
  5. Have fun learning and take videos of when you start diving to track your progression. I still have a video of how I fell into the pool when I first started diving because I was clumsy! It’s a good laugh and a great reminder of how much I have progressed over the years.

Cover Photo Credit: Andrew Ryzebol