You probably remember diving into a pool and swimming until your feet scraped the rough bottom. Once down there, you might’ve held your breath for as long as possible before swimming back to the surface and bursting through the water, into the fresh air. For some, it’s the biggest thrill of any dunk in the pool.

This must’ve been how Herbert Nitsch felt when he went for a swim. The adrenaline junkie couldn’t get enough of freediving, a sport that sees divers plunge as far beneath the sea as possible. But when he sought to break an unbeatable record, he went to war with Mother Nature — and sometimes we forget that Mother’s fury is almighty.

Meet Herbert Nitsch. He’s been ordained the “Deepest Man on Earth,” and not without reason. While that’s quite a title to have, Nitsch, the renowned Austrian freediver, earned it.

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See, freediving isn’t a sport for the faint of heart, considering it comes with a phone-book-long list of risks. It involves a diver taking one single breath and descending as deep as possible into the ambiguous blue, pushing his or her body to unimaginable limits.

You’d think the list of perils, basically doubling as warnings, would deter most from freediving, but daredevils like Nitsch live for it. Oddly, however, he became an adrenaline chaser by chance, as he discovered his love of freediving in the most peculiar way.

Nitsch planned on going on a scuba diving excursion, but a clumsy airline lost all of his luggage, which contained his scuba equipment. But the former pilot wasn’t the type of person to let the opportunity slip by.

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So Nitsch went diving without gear, and it turned out, he was pretty good at it. When a friend of Nitsch’s father noticed that he had no problem letting the ocean engulf him for long periods of time, he suggested Nitsch challenge the Austrian freediving record.

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Funny enough, at this point, the man who’d eventually be known as the “Deepest” had no idea what freediving was. But nevertheless, that was the hook that began Nitsch’s allure to the perilous sub-aqueous sport. 

Eventually, Nitsch took his father’s friend’s advice, and, after some additional training, appeared at the freediving championships in 2007. With only a “sled” to guide him, he plunged into the ocean and swam down, down, down.

Despite having only recently learned of freediving, he broke the world record after diving 702 feet below the surface! And from there, his diving career took off.

Now, since he’s a man who can hold his breath for more than 9 minutes and has set a total of 33 world records, you’d think he had this whole “life-threatening” sport in the bag. But a near-fatal accident in 2012 proved this to be only somewhat true.

In 2012, Nitsch traveled to Greece to compete in the “No Limits” discipline of freediving. He set out with an astonishing goal that would push the ironically zen thrill-seeker’s body much further. 

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At the time of the Greek competition, Nitsch was prepared to descend further than ever before: 801 feet. With a freediving sled (a guiding mechanism) designed impeccably for success and a mind “as bright and clear as the vast sky, the great ocean, and the highest peak,” triumph seemed to be a sure shot. 

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Incredibly, on his June 6th journey, Nitsch dived an incredible 831 feet, surpassing his goal by 30 feet. He didn’t really get the chance to celebrate, however.

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Because on his ascent, at about the 350 feet mark, Nitsch fell completely unconscious. Thanks to his sled, his body continued rising towards the surface, but he was in more danger than ever.

See, Nitsch’s nitrogen pressure levels had become higher than normal, afflicting him with decompression sickness (DCS). While the illness can sometimes hit hours after a dive, his case struck just ten minutes after he plunged under the sea.

Nitsch himself had explained that his DCS was so severe that it was “equivalent in my case to several brain strokes with severe initial consequences.” The enigma of freediving is starting to sound less appealing, isn’t it? 

Safety divers came to Nitsch’s rescue, detaching him from his sled and assisting him while he regained consciousness. Before they reached the surface, Nitsch gained coherency and could request oxygen.

Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Nitrogen filled his veins and poisoned his body. When Nitsch started to lose feeling in his body, he was immediately rushed to a hospital in Athens, Greece, and placed in a decompression chamber. 

After a week in Athens, Nitsch was taken to Murnau in Southern Germany, where he began a month of recompression therapy. Subsequent to this, Nitsch completed months of rehab in Vienna, relearning to walk, talk, and use his muscles again. 

The brave Austrian’s time in rehabilitation wasn’t smooth, as things got pretty dark for him. He suffered from severe depression, and suicidal thoughts clouded his mind. Nitsch questioned what his quality of life would be like after rehab; could life ever be the same?

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Nitsch eventually recovered, though minor speech and coordination issues were still a challenge, however. Still, he wasn’t sure he’d ever make it back into the water again.

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But in early 2013, a healthy Nitsch took a trip to the South Pacific with his father. There, he started seriously freediving again, realizing that the great big blue had so much more to show him. Nitsch’s gills were craving that gorgeous ocean water they knew so well. 

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With Nitsch back in the blue, he was free to push the limits of his body once more; and hey, who knows — maybe he could team up with Ross Edgley a 33-year-old athlete, swimmer, and fitness expert from the United Kingdom.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Edgley told Red Bull, “I want to inspire people to get out there and challenge themselves – maybe try your first open water swim, sign up for a triathlon, or your first park run – find something that you didn’t think you were capable of and prove yourself wrong.”

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Making it a point to make this kind of mission his lifestyle, he’s streamed several widely followed challenges on social media, proving your body is capable of more than you think it is.

Ross Edgley

Most notably, Edgley held the world record for the longest rope climb in under 24 hours. He climbed a total of 29,029 feet in that period of time — the equivalent to the height of Mount Everest.

Hungry for another thrill, he attempted to swim over 62 miles in the Caribbean while holding a 100 pound tree. He made it to about the 24 mile mark but had to stop due to strong currents. This left Edgley feeling like he had unfinished business with the water.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Edgley wanted to set a new goal for himself after not fully accomplishing his last, so he reached out to the Royal Marines and requested permission to swim off-shore for 48 hours straight. In his proposed challenge, he could not take a break or swim to shore to rest.

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A few logistics meetings later, Edgley swam for 48 hours like it was swim practice, and in that time, he swam about 78 miles. Everyone was impressed with the swimmer’s stamina, so one marine suggested Edgley do something even crazier…

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The marine suggested Edgley swim around the entirety of Great Britain. It was a borderline insane venture for even Edgley to take on, but he wanted to live up to the title of the book he was writing, The World’s Fittest Book.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

“I’ve always been fascinated by British explorers,” Edgley told Red Bull, “and it was Captain Matthew Webb [first person the swim the English Channel], who really inspired me. Back in 1875, they said no one could swim the channel because it was just too treacherous, but he proved them all wrong.”

As he’d done with so many challenges before, Edgley first plotted logistics: he wouldn’t be allowed to touch the shore — not even once — there needed to be feeding stations en route, minimal waves, predictable currents, and coastguard personnel to supervise.

And because the tide changes approximately every six hours, Edgley planned to swim for six hour intervals, which would carry him about 30 miles. There was no point in wasting valuable energy trying to swim against the current.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Meanwhile, experts advised Edgley he needed not only to swim hard, but he needed to swim smart. “If you get it wrong around The Highlands,” he said, “you’ve eight knots coming against you. So even if you are swimming two to three knots, an Olympic level, you’ll still be going back four knots.”

One of the only things Edgley could control was the protection he used on his body. He knew wetsuits would cause irritation and blisters, but he planned on bringing multiple sizes to account for his deteriorating body over the course of his venture.

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As for trip planning, Edgley left that up to the captain of the boat that would be following him. The captain tracked the tides and current on an electronic map, and also plotted where Edgley would swim each day so they could map his progress.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

With all of the logistics planned out, it was time for Edgley to dive right into his record breaking challenge. On June 1, 2018, he left Margate Harbour and began swimming in a clockwise direction. Would this be another Caribbean swim?

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Edgley stuck to his plan and started swimming in six hour increments. During the six hours the tides changed in an unfavorable manner, he would swim to his boat station and enjoy a much deserved six hour sleep. The cycle just went on and on.

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As he was burning a great deal of calories during his swim, Edgley kept up his energy by consuming 15,000 calories each day. He would usually eat foods like, “whey protein, and for carbs, nut butters, coconut oil, foods void of texture and taste.” So, not cake.

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Of course, this venture was the hardest Edgley had ever attempted, and Mother Nature didn’t help: throughout the swim, jellyfish continuously stung Edgley. He recalled, “A giant jellyfish attached itself for 30 minutes to my face in the middle of the whirlpool and just wouldn’t let go.”

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Additionally, he experienced something called “salt mouth.” Essentially his tongue and mouth area deteriorated due to an overwhelming exposure to salt water. He also experienced wetsuit chaffing and, of course, intense sleep deprivation.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Through it all, Edgley continued to push himself physically and mentally. He suffered through every water-based affliction imaginable. The experience was painful in every way imaginable. And then?

He made it! Triumphantly waving the British flag, he set foot on dry the shore for the first time in 157 days — he had planned it would take him approximately 100 days to complete. Still, his effort earned him four world records.

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He became tirst person to swim the entire South Coast of the UK, the longest ever staged sea swim, the fastest person on the planet to swim from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and, most importantly, the first person to swim around Great Britain.

Ross Edgley / Instagram

Some may wonder why Edgley put himself through such a ludicrous challenge. Why? What did he truly gain? Well, Edgley made one final statement: “All going well, my challenge encourages people to do what they love and let Mother Nature take care of your physiology. It’s about being fit for purpose.”

Ross Edgley / Instagram