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Breakfast with Frost
On Sunday, 27 July 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview withTanya Streeter Free diver, live from Austin Texas

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

Tanya Streeter, world free diving record holder
Tanya Streeter, world free diving record holder

PETER SISSONS: Now she's been called the nearest thing the human race has to a dolphin and the world's most perfect athlete.

Last week Tanya Streeter dived into the record books by descending 400 feet into the ocean and propelling herself back to the surface, all with one very deep breath lasting three and a half minutes.

Well Tanya is now back on dry land in Austin, Texas, and she joins me now live from there where it's just gone three in the morning.

So Tanya, congratulations, and thanks for staying up so late to talk to us.

TANYA STREETER: Oh, I didn't stay up, I went to bed and woke up again.

PETER SISSONS: Now how did you discover you had this talent to hold your breath so long for a start?

TANYA STREETER: More by fault than by design. I was basically discovered by somebody else who knew more about the sport, but I grew up on an island and like children who grow up in the mountains and are great skiers by the time they're six, I was always quite a good snorkeler and that's basis really of my free diving.

PETER SISSONS: But apart from being able to hold your breath, what does this entail?

TANYA STREETER: Oh gosh, a lot more. But basically it really calls on human physiology, there's nothing that's unique to me - everything, you know, that I call on as a free diver is really unique to the human race and our connection with marine mammals. But I am obviously trained to understand my own physiology very, very well.

PETER SISSONS: Some runners, I mean I once talked to Sebastian Coe and he explained that it's been discovered that he has quite special lungs, capable of pumping the oxygen into his bloodstream faster than other people's. Do you have special lungs that other girls don't have?

TANYA STREETER: (Laughter) That's a very personal question for this early time of the morning. No, really, not especially. But I mean all athletes especially endurance athletes, have very efficient cardiovascular systems, in particular the most relevant at the moment Lance Armstrong, is really just extremely efficient and his ability, his body's ability to carry and use oxygen.

And as a free diver I would imagine that our abilities are similar. I haven't been tested for the length that some of those athletes have, but the tests that have been done on me, I have hyperbaric facility in the world and at Oxford University, have really just shown that there's nothing different about me than there is anybody else, other than my mental willpower and my ability to stay calm where other people normally, you know, would not be calm with such low levels of oxygen and high levels of lactic acid and carbon dioxide in their system.

PETER SISSONS: Just tell us about the dive and your sensation as you entered the water and as you took that first deep breath.

TANYA STREETER: Well, up until that point I really do get quite nervous about what I have to do but as soon as I get in the water my nerves really evaporate completely and, in particular, in Turks and Kakos where we were, it's just so beautiful that it's difficult not to get lost in the surroundings.

But it's a focus that I have, an incredibly strong focus that I have to have for just over three and a half minutes. And the dive went well, my descent was slowed a little bit because I stopped my sled a couple of times just to be able to equalise and make sure I could equalise and make sure I could equalise that deep. And then on the way up actually my divers were quite thrilled to see me smiling at different depths and I wiggled my fingers to give them a little wave or give them an OK signal.

My husband met me at about 75 feet on the way up and I gave him a wink and a smile because I knew at that point that I'd done it. And we just surfaced together, and then it's a very long painful 16 seconds where I can't touch or hug anybody and I just have to wait for the judges to give me an OK.

PETER SISSONS: Did you have to keep your eyes shut all the time?

TANYA STREETER: No, not necessarily, and I've grown used to the sensation of salt water on my eyes. It doesn't bother me at all. And I like to open them because sometimes I can see the figures of my divers in the distance and I can also see the light changing. Obviously at 400 feet it's really quite dark but at the surface it starts off being very very light, even without a mask I can tell that. So sometimes they're open and sometimes they're closed.

PETER SISSONS: And the pressure compresses your lungs to the size of oranges?

TANYA STREETER: Something like that, yes. I mean you have to imagine that when I begin the dive my lungs will, for arguments sake, be about that size. Remember the pressure, each atmosphere they halve and halve again. So at depth they've really scrunched up into this area of my chest and reduced in size dramatically.

And at a point called residual volume which would medically be that the most we can exhale on land, the lungs go through a transformation which is physiologically similar to that in other marine mammals, whales and dolphins, whereby a degree, a small amount of blood plasma passed into them to self-equalise.

So I no longer feel the pressure on this area of my body, but I do continue to feel it in my ear canals and in my sinuses and that's the area that I continue to have to equalise by just clenching my nose or using the nose clip that I have on, and blowing air into my eustachian tubes to gently pop the ear drums back out again as they squeeze in under the pressure.

PETER SISSONS: Is 400 feet the limit, or are you going to go for more?

TANYA STREETER: Oh gosh, well it's a bit early for me to say. I think I echo the sentiments of many athletics who have challenged themselves to this degree in saying that I'm quite relieved that it's over at this point.

Having said that, I also said that last year after my 525ft dive so you really never can tell but the human limit is way more than where we think it is, em, and encouraging people to redefine their limits as I do with my message from free diving, it's really accepting that whilst there are no limits they are just simply nowhere near where we think they are, and having the ability to try and the determination to never give up when things get tough, you really start to realise your own individual potential and those of us on the edge of human endeavour we start to realise our own human potential as well.

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