Professional Cliff Diver Jonathan Paredes On Overcoming Fear After Injury - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Professional Cliff Diver Jonathan Paredes On Overcoming Fear After Injury

Following his accident in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, the former champ faces a mental battle to overcome his fear.

Ever been scared at the top of a high-diving board? Maybe. At nine metres, it’s totally understandable. Now stick another 20 metres onto that, a sheer rock-face behind you, and thousands of onlookers screaming your name. That’s what competitors face during a Red Bull Cliff Diving event. Here, Jonathan Paredes explains how he will be overcoming fear in this weekend’s Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

As a professional cliff diver, you dive into the water from 27 metres. When you get up on the platform there are a lot of things going on in your head. Fear. Tension. Pressure. It’s not a walk in the park. But last year when the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series went to Saint-Raphaël in France, I had an accident.

Leading into that event, I was feeling great. But when I did my first dive in training, something felt a bit weird as I went through the air. So I said to my friend, “I’m going to do one more”. Now that’s something that I never do. I’ll normally do one dive in the build-up to get a feel for the conditions and then, no matter how it goes, just try and improve on it in the competition. But that day I chose to go up again and when I jumped off the platform, everything fell apart. 

My body didn’t connect with my mind and I got ‘lost’ in the air. That’s your absolute worst fear as a cliff diver.

Coming down it’s only about three seconds of free fall, but in that situation, it feels like forever. You know everything has gone wrong, and you’re just waiting for the impact. I was really scared. Really scared.  

I landed on my back from 27 metres. When you hit the water like that, it’s not about the pain; it’s more that you just feel so disorientated, so confused. The next thing I remember were the scuba divers pulling me out and then being taken to hospital. Physically, everything was okay, but mentally I was really struggling.

After that, I tried a couple of times to dive again. The first event of this year’s series was in Boston.

I climbed up the platform, thinking, I’m ready to do this. But once I reached the edge, my mind started overthinking all the worst-case scenarios: It will happen again! I’m going to kill myself! What am I doing here? My mind was so bad, I was like, I can’t do this. I need to wait. It was tough.

A couple of weeks later, the series went to Paris for the first time. I wanted to take some pressure off so I decided I wouldn’t do my most difficult dives in order to regain my confidence, exorcise that bad memory and prove to myself
I could still dive. If I managed to do that, I hoped to be able to start doing my usual dives again in the next competition. The morning before the Paris event I just sat alone on the edge of the diving platform with my legs dangling above the Seine, looking out at the Eiffel Tower. In my head I kept talking to myself: Okay. Jonny, no worries. You chose easy dives. Everything should be okay.

When competition time arrived, I stood on the platform looking down at the crowds. Did I feel scared? You never conquer that fear. If you lose the fear, it’s time to retire. What you do is try and manage it. Okay, I said to myself, I’m scared. I’m diving from 27 metres. But I can control it because I’ve trained for this for so many years.
I focused on blocking everything else out and concentrating on what I had to do. It didn’t matter there were 3000 people watching me. Nothing mattered. The world disappears in that second. It’s just you and the platform and the water. And then you just jump.

That moment in Paris was a huge step for me. Now I want to start competing for the podium again. Whatever you’re attempting in life, it’s okay to feel scared. But you also have to try and stay rational and focus on the elements that you can control. That’s the only way that you can ever manage to do your thing. 

Jonathan Paredes is an ambassador for Mido watches. The final of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series takes place in Sydney on October 15.

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