How many of us can claim to be a World Champion at our 20s? At 22, Jeanine Grasmeijers is the reigning Freediving World Champion. She set a World Record in 2013 for the Free Immersion discipline with a record depth of 90m. She also holds the National Record for 4 other freediving disciplines. She recently came back from a competition in Mexico, her last for this year’s season, where she had an overall first place.
Name: Jeanine Grasmeijers
Study: BSc Medicine graduate, incoming MSc Medicine student
What is freediving?
Freediving is a breathe-holding sport where you try to go as deep or as long as possible with just one breathe. With the latter, it’s either ‘static apnea’ so you hold your breath while lying face down in a pool, or you swim horizontally which is called ‘dynamic apnea’. When you try to go as deep as possible, there’s a floating platform with a weighted rope attached to it that is set to a certain depth. The goal is to reach the end of the rope. In ‘constant weight apnea,’ you dive with fins but you’re not allowed to actively use the rope during the dive, whereas in ‘constant weight apnea without fins’ you do it without fins. ‘Free immersion apnea’ is where you use the rope to pull yourself up and down but you’re not allowed to use fins. Aside from the sport, there’s also a recreative side to it, so you can go diving with sharks or see coral reefs.
How and when did you start freediving?
I’ve been swimming since I was little, but never competitively. I did it for my own enjoyment and because I like the silence and the serenity of it. When I finished high school, I went backpacking in Southeast Asia. I did a regular diving course in Thailand but it wasn’t what I expected, I felt very heavy and restricted. A few months later, I found out about a free diving school so I did a course there and found out that I’m really good at it and I really enjoyed it. So I got into competitions thanks to my instructor who I did my first static breathe hold with, which was 5 mins for the very first time, and he said we can train you for a Dutch record, you’re not very far off!
How do you train?
I would train for a competition at least 6 weeks in advance where I increase my depth 3-5m at a time. I do pool training where I do dynamic and static dives to train my apneatic ability and to prepapre my body for the depth. Outside deep diving season, I do swimming, running, and just regular exercise. Yoga also goes very well with deep diving. It makes you flexible and has this spiritual side to it and freediving can be spiritual because of the whole underwater meditation.
What is the key to freediving?
Freediving is a very mental sport. We say that it’s 80% mental and 20% physical. If you would tell somebody to go to 10m, he’d probably be afraid because he can’t breathe and there’s all this water above him. Once you’re at 10m, you can’t go back at once, you’ll have to swim up so the tendency is to panic. That’s the hard part, also for us because we don’t go down to just 10m, we go up to 80m! So even we are stressed out because when you’re freediving, you’re really on your own. The key is to be in a meditative state. The brain is the main oxygen user so you have to try to switch it off, kind of. You have to be very efficient with your movements and eliminate stressful thoughts. The challenge is that you’re going to dive at immense depth, but you can’t stress about it!
What do you think of Maastricht?
I like the city, it has a nice atmosphere. It’s not a scary city at all, it’s a very kind city, I think. Maastricht is clean and it looks good. Everything is within 15 mins. It’s cosy!
What’s your favourite places in Maastricht?
I enjoy spending my time at the Geusseltbad (Maastricht’s local swimming pool) and hanging out at the Tramhalte restaurant and bar at Cannerplein. I always recommend the Boekhandel Dominicanen. For me, it’s the most beautiful bookstore in the world. I also like the two-dimensional paintings at the Vrijthof. You can see them best at the top of the Sint Jans Kerk.
Maastricht in three words:
Historical, prosperous, and cosy.
Watch Jeanine talk about freediving at RTL Late Night, the national talkshow in the Netherlands, and be inspired!
Text: Karissa Atienza
Photography: Brian Megens