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Audacious Transcript: "Below the surface: The stories behind underwater world records"

Transcript of Audacious host Chion Wolf in conversation with Budimir Šobat and Dr. Joseph Dituri for the episode titled "Below the surface: The stories behind underwater world records."

Audacious with Chion Wolf
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Chion Wolf 00:03

From Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, this is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. All week, Connecticut Public talk shows are diving deep into all things nautical as part of its first-ever NautiWeek. So today we're introducing you to two people who broke world records while underwater. Later we'll hear from Dr. Joe Dituri, who lived in a hotel 30 feet below sea level for 100 days. And then we'll talk with him about how his body and mind have been adapting to life back on land. But first, how long do you think you could hold your breath? 30 seconds, maybe a minute? How about 24 minutes, and 37.36 seconds? Our first guest 57-year-old Budimir Šobat of Croatia started practicing holding his breath for long periods of time, at 48 years old when he decided to learn freediving. Budimir was inspired by his daughter Sasha to beat the breath-holding world record. She has autism and he hoped that the attention he got for it would bring awareness to her condition. He also wanted to raise money for people affected by an earthquake that devastated Croatia in December of 2020. Now, the guidelines for beating this Guinness World Record allowed individuals to fill their lungs with 100% pure oxygen for 30 minutes before the clock started counting. So if you can't beat Budimir's record while holding your breath with the measly 21% oxygen more or less in the air right now. Don't feel too bad. And please don't try this at home. So what did he feel like as he lowered himself into the water and the stopwatch began counting?

Budimir Šobat 01:39

I would love to say that it's a mystical state. But it's not. It's painful, you'll feel the pain because of huge amounts of oxygen in your body. This is something weird for you. Because it's pure, it's so strong and you are feeling like you are dizzy, but 100% sharp, like you did, you took some pills. But anyway, you see everything so clearly. And at the same time, so many sensors on you are working on 110%. And I needed five or even six minutes to calm myself down. And then after five minutes, I hear my speakers and I'm listening to music. But when I say I'm listening to music, the volume is so low that I have to figure out 'Am I sure that I'm listening? Do I hear the music or I hear my heartbeat?' And that's the way I'm playing with myself and trying to stay awake.

Chion Wolf 02:49

Stay awake, I would imagine. I mean, this is intense. There was a risk you would fall asleep?

Budimir Šobat 02:54

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So every, let's say 10 minutes, you have to show the sign. Are you okay?

Chion Wolf 03:01

Okay. What's that sign?

Budimir Šobat 03:03

Sign is to adjust your finger, you're doing this.

Chion Wolf 03:07

Okay, see, like twitching your hand on the surface of the water?

Budimir Šobat 03:10

Yeah, just like that. And then after 10 minutes, it's not necessary because nothing's going to happen up to 20 minutes. And then I made the deal with my buddy, who is on a rescue team. Okay, now when it's 20 minutes, you can tell to me stay 20 minutes and then every 30 seconds, and I will show you the sign because of CO2. The most important part in this action is how much CO2 can you take? Because you are poisoning yourself. Because you have oxygen 100% and you are poisoned with the CO2. Oxygen is changing to CO2. So how much you can handle, this is why I am a case study in medicine. My brain is working completely different. It's fighting against CO2. So this is how I probably I can make those kinds of numbers.

Chion Wolf 04:06

When you were preparing to go under you mentioned sort of a feeling of pain. Can you talk more about what that pain was? And did it linger throughout or sort of ebb and flow throughout the 24 minutes and 37.36 seconds you were under?

Budimir Šobat 04:20

The first pain is head pain, headache, like like a headache. The pain in your abdomen as well because you are full of air. My lungs are eight liters of capacity. When I add more air, in this case, your oxygen, I can pick up to 11. It's three liters more. So can you imagine a balloon? It's going to blow up, it's somewhere close to blow up. Yes, that's the point.

Chion Wolf 04:47

Wait a minute. So did your internal organs suffer?

Budimir Šobat 04:50

Yeah, actually they suffer. Yeah, because you have a huge amount of air in yourself. Your diaphragm is probably moving left and right, up and down.

Chion Wolf 05:02

I bet there are some very pregnant women out there, or very pregnant people out there who are sympathetic with you to a degree, although yours was so temporary.

Budimir Šobat 05:09

Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah, I was never pregnant, but I suppose it looks like that. Yeah. So it's very similar because your organs tend to make space for those amounts of air.

Chion Wolf 05:25

When you were under for all that time I tried to imagine like if that were me, what would I be thinking about? And I think I would either be like, I would like ebb and flow between a deep meditation and connection to myself to all that is and ever would be and ever was. And I would also be thinking about, like, what I need to do later that day. And then ah, that's, there's a book that I wanted to start reading. What kind of things were going through your head when you were under there?

Budimir Šobat 05:59

You just explained my first three or four years of freediving. And then I realized that this is not a good idea. I will tell you why. Even your eyes, they're using oxygen. So you have to close your eyes, even eyes, because you are thinking, can you imagine that?

Chion Wolf 06:20

No, I never have before. So thank you.

Budimir Šobat 06:23

Yeah. So the first couple of years when I was doing the static, one of the disciplines in freediving, I was thinking about my daughter, I was thinking about my day, I was thinking how I will do the freediving, I will do spearfishing cover, I will enjoy looking at the sea. And then I realized after five or six minutes, I'm exhausted because I'm overthinking. So I decided to try to think not to think. So my focus is to be completely empty. I don't know, is it the meditation? Is it yoga, because I never learned proper yoga. But what I found out that this has helped me a lot that I'm not allowed to think about my daughter, I'm not allowed to think about the future, I'm not allowed to think about anything, I just have to be with empty minds.

Chion Wolf 07:20

So because you've developed the capacity to be present to let go of those thoughts, or get better at letting go of those thoughts in order to stay under longer, please tell me that this translates into your everyday life when you do want to be present. When you do want to get the noise out of your head. If you're beginning to ruminate on something or feeling anxious about something, please tell me that you've developed that muscle too that it's easier for you now because of this to become more present?

Budimir Šobat 07:47

Yes, yes. Because I was not that kind of person before Sasha, before I met my wife. I was not that kind of person before I started to freedive. I was like a Mike Tyson.

Chion Wolf 08:00

How so?

Budimir Šobat 08:01

Pure force, without any hesitation. Reactive? Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I was like a bomb, which will explode any moment. And I would explode for 10 times per day. I'm completely different person now. So I'm thinking those kinds of things helped me to change my mind. And I'm dealing with the life quite easily. Now, it doesn't mean that I'm not crying when I'm alone. Because the biggest fear of parents who have kids with autism, 'What's going to happen with our kids, when we are gone?' This is the most important thing, which bothers me every night, every morning. During the day sometimes when I'm teaching other kids. If she's going to live with dignity, this is the most important thing for me. So that's why trying to be a better man than I was. Because I was *bleep*. 20 years ago, let's say, it's a rude word, but, you know, I was cheating on the girls. I was drinking a lot, things like that. And now I'm thinking, now you have to turn the page and be good to the people because when you're gone, they will think of you as a person who deserves to be respected as a case like okay, now he's gone. But there is his daughter over there. Because he was good. We are willing to help her. So every day I'm thinking how to make a good things to other people. And hopefully, it's going to be back when I'm gone.

Chion Wolf 09:49

So will you take me to the moments approaching the end of your record? What changed in your whole being that told you it's about we gotta wrap this up and come up for air?

Budimir Šobat 10:02

It never happens to me before, I was so calm that at one point of my attempt, I fell asleep. This is what I was waiting.

Chion Wolf 10:14

Oh no, no one can see the look on my face but it ain't good.

Budimir Šobat 10:19

You know why? Because you could die? Yes, you have your eyes and your mouth closed. And you will never let the air out of your mouth until the last 10 seconds. But I fell asleep. And I felt some bubbles through my mouth. And it woke me up. And I didn't know at that moment. Am I in a blackout? Am I dreaming? I didn't know where I am. I felt the tapping on my shoulder from my buddy. And he said 'Buda, are you okay?'. And then I said with my finger, I showed them that I am okay. And then I realized, oh my God, but I didn't know for how long. And okay, then I started to think, okay, the pain is quite okay, so maybe I am on eight because I am not wearing a watch. I'm not wearing a Google so I can't see the time. I don't want to know. Where was the pain? The pain, what's happening? Your abdomen because of the lack of oxygen, your belly is like you are pregnant at the beginning. But after some time, it's going to be smaller and smaller and smaller. And it's opposite. At the end but then your belly is opposite. It was like elephant. And at the end, it's inside. And my belly started to hurt me because my diaphragma was under my ribs. The last three minutes, it's really painful. Like somebody is putting a knife in you and digging a hole. And then I heard my buddy he said 'Buda, it's 21 minutes.' And I say 'Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I am still alive. And I am on my way.' And then I realized, I have it. I just have to think that the pain is just temporary for another three minutes. And we made the deal that after 24:30, I'm ready to go out because we want to do it like - do you know the it was ex-Russian but he is from Ukraine, an athlete named Sergey Bubka. He was a world record holder in jumping with the pole. And he was very clever. He decided to do inch by inch. And every time he did it, he made the money.

Chion Wolf 12:45

Of course, of course, it's sort of like when they make new features on cars. They don't want to release all of them at once. And so that's right, you don't want to release it. You want to raise it bit by bit. So people buy them and incrementally buy more.

Budimir Šobat 12:57

Yeah, he was the first one who did it. Six meters, 6.01, 6. But he was clever enough to do inch by inch. And that's why we said 'Okay, don't go for 20 minutes because we will leave 25 minutes for something special.' Because 25 minutes sounds huge. 24:37, something like that. Okay, now we are ready for 25. This is how we are going to do it. Yeah.

Chion Wolf 13:24

So does that mean that, like, you're gonna give us a 25-minute world record soon? Yeah, it sounds good. Yeah. 25. So we'll reconnect, and I'll ask you all these questions again.

Budimir Šobat 13:33

Yeah, that's why we are chasing 25. And then we will do 30. Because 30 minutes with Buda, 30 minutes with Jay Leno. 30 minutes with Chion. Yeah, you know, Chion. Yeah. So there's the story. There's the story.

Chion Wolf 13:50

Okay, so finally, it's the last moments of this experience. And you're about to pull your head up and you pull it up. What's going through your mind when you pull your head out of the water for the first time in 24 minutes and 37.36 seconds?

Budimir Šobat 14:07

You will laugh again. Because it was Saturday. And on Saturday, it's my day for cleaning the bathrooms. So, at that point, I was thinking 'Okay, now I have to drive home and clean the bathroom.' No, really, I'm not lying.

Chion Wolf 14:27

You're like 'Let me go under for another 24:37 minutes'

Budimir Šobat 14:30

I'm really, I'm not lying. Okay, I will drive home. I will clean my bathroom and I will eat properly because the last five days I did not eat much because you are trying to be light as much as you can. Yeah, in a way that your stomach is empty. Your mind is empty. Nothing is happening. So I'm just drinking water. Actually, I'm fasting. For the last five days, I'm not eating at all. That's my kind of preparation.

Chion Wolf 15:02

When I realize I'm holding my breath because I'm stressed, or whatever, are there any breathing exercises that you do just to be a sane person, not necessarily to hold your breath for a long time?

Budimir Šobat 15:14

Well, sometimes it's good to be in silence, and just try to hear your heartbeat. For the first couple of months, try to do that. And you will realize that you started to breathe differently. It will take only a couple of minutes during the day, switch off everything, and try to be calm. And in a dark place. Close your eyes, and just breathe. And then in one point, try to hear your heartbeat. But try to lay on the back and try to hear 'Oh my god, I can hear it.' And then you will realize that you are breathing completely different. Try not to think about anything, just try to be focused and try to listen your heartbeat. For me, it works and changed me.

Chion Wolf 16:05

So your advice is, listen to your heart.

Budimir Šobat 16:09

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It can't be wrong. You can't argue with that.

Chion Wolf 16:14

No, it's always right.

Budimir Šobat 16:17

Yeah, it's always right. Yeah.

Chion Wolf 16:46

Now I've gotta let you in on a little project we've been working on for the past few months. At the end of every interview, I've been asking folks to tell me their favorite piece of life advice. Eventually, they'll all be put together for a show, so stay tuned for that, but I loved Budimir's answer so much that I didn't wanna wait for it to air. Here's what he said.

Budimir Šobat 17:08

Well, I'm close to cry at the moment because I like to talk about it, but I don't talk much about it. You definitely know the movie Saving Private Ryan. Yeah. You know the last word of Tom Hanks when he said it to Matt Damon? He said to him 'Earn it.' This is - sorry, sorry.

Chion Wolf 17:50

Okay. Take your time.

Budimir Šobat 18:04

There is only one life. When it comes to the point that you have to leave - no matter what place you want to go. I think I will be the dust. And you will stand in front of mirror and ask yourself 'Was I a good man or bad man? Did I waste my talent or not?' And it's like in basketball. There is a plus and a minus. Is your team better with you or without you? And I hope so that the world was better with me. That was in a plus.

Chion Wolf 18:58

Budimir Buda Sobat, you're amazing. Thank you so much.

Budimir Šobat 19:04


Chion Wolf 19:05

I'm not sorry. I'm grateful. You're amazing. I love how you shine. I love how you shine. Thank you.

Budimir Šobat 19:13

Thank you for having me.

Chion Wolf 19:16

We're going out with audio published by Guinness World Records of the sound of Budimir coming to the surface and breaking the record. You can see all 24 minutes and 37.36 seconds of it at ct public.org/audacious. When we get back, what does living underwater for long periods of time have to do with outer space?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 19:36

To the dawn of our time and space, we have trained astronauts in the water. So aquanauts make the best astronauts. I have said that from day one.

Chion Wolf 19:47

That's Dr. Joe Dituri. He speaks to us from his home 30 feet underwater, and then we reconnect when he surfaces after 100 days. I'm Chion Wolf, this is Audacious. Stay with me. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Dr. Joe Dituri has worn many hats in his 55 years here on planet earth. He was a commander and submersible expert in the US Navy for 28 years. He's a hyperbaric researcher and director of the International Board of Undersea Medicine. He's also a traumatic brain injury survivor, and holds the Guinness world record for the longest time spent living underwater. On March 1 2023, Dr. Dituri scuba dived 30 feet down to the Jules' Undersea Lodge, a 100 square foot steel and glass underwater hotel off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Thus began his 100-day undersea research for Project Neptune 100, which studies the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body. We connected on day 93 of his adventure, but I wanted to know, way back on day one, what was on his mind.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 21:07

I was filled with the idea of doing lots and lots of science, a little bit of outreach and a lot of talking to my friends who are PhDs and MDs in the undersea realm, right? You know, marine scientists, sponge experts, shark experts, I figured I'd do a lot of that. And what it wound up being was, I did a lot of science. And I did a lot, a lot, a lot of outreach. And I did a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff. So everybody's like, 'Well, what did you do? You were bored down there' And I'm like, bored, I work like 16 hours a day. And by the end of the day, I'm exhausted, I pour myself into the wreck. And it's like, I'm sleeping so much better while I'm down here, by the way, between 60 and 66% of the time in REM sleep.

Chion Wolf 21:52

Are your dreams different down there?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 21:56

Technicolor, technicolor, wild, amazing!

Chion Wolf 22:03


Dr. Joseph Dituri 22:04


Chion Wolf 22:05

Ah, wait a minute. Can we talk just real quick? We have so much other stuff to talk about. But were you able to lucid dream before going down there? And now it's even more? Or is this like a new experience with lucid dreaming for you?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 22:16

So sleep has always been elusive? For me. I'm a traumatic brain injury sufferer. Most traumatic brain injury sufferers, regardless, they don't sleep well. For me, it has not, that has been exactly the case. I was a military guy for 28 years. Hyperalert hypersensitivity. Sure, you know, I didn't sleep very well, anyway, you know, always on guard, guard, guard. But bottom line is, I slept a little bit before I came in here. When I came here and the result was that I was sleeping so much better, I did understand. No question.

Chion Wolf 22:53

On day 73 underwater, you beat the world record for such a thing. What did that feel like?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 23:01

I guess the right word would be overwhelming. Because at that point, the media interviews kicked in. They were, it went nuts. And everybody's like, 'I gotta get a hold of you. I gotta get, you gotta come on my show. You gotta get..' and I'm like, 'Guys, timeout. I'm actually down here doing science.' Like, I still have 27 more days of science to go. And it's not about the record. It never was about the record. It's about the length of time underwater and what happens to the human body. And oh, by the way, we still have shark experts to talk to, and oh, by the way, you know, the atheologist hasn't been here yet. No, by the way, we have astronauts coming in, oh, by the way, so we still had like a full dinner plate of stuff, another month of work. You know, everybody's like, you beat the record 27 times. And I'm like 'Don't look at things like that. That's not the way we look at things.' We just set out to do 100 days, we're going to do 100 days. That's it.

Chion Wolf 23:52

You've been called an aquanaut. And I imagine that some of what you're dealing with is also some of what astronauts deal with, especially when they go up to the International Space Station. And of course, who else? Who knows where else? When you think about what you're doing? Do you feel a kinship with astronauts?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 24:12

Oh, absolutely. Since the dawn of our time in space, we have trained astronauts in the water. So aquanauts make the best astronauts. I have said that from day one. When I started becoming an aquanaut back in the early days and I wanted to go to space, and I still do, I have no, I have no problem with doing that. And some of the stuff that we're working are solution-based steps for going underwater and going into space. You know, Elon Musk, I love him and he keeps saying 'We're going to Mars' and I go 'I have a couple of questions.' What are we going to do about muscle loss? So here we have these bands that we put on, and I have been testing them out with just these resistance bands, no weights down here whatsoever. And I am building muscle.

Chion Wolf 24:59

Oh, I see, so you strap it around the muscle for resistance?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 25:03

Wrap it around the muscle, then it constricts. And then everything distal to it is in engorged with blood, basically you're stimulating growth. And then you're working the muscle with this resistance band just like they have on the International Space Station. And we're gonna see if we can build muscle how much we're doing, how well we're doing. We're doing muscle testing, you know, we did 90 psychological and psychosocial tests. Part of this is about getting to Mars, because Mars is a 200-day trip, unless we do a slingshot around the moon. And that's kind of like a really hard problem to solve, the Hohmann transfer. My master's in astronautical engineering, so I understand all that math. And I'm sure everybody's like, 'Oh, it's really close'. I'm like 'Mars is anything but close.' It is close but not that close. It is close, but not that close.

Chion Wolf 25:54

So you've been counting the days that you've been down there you will be resurfacing very shortly, a little over a week from now, June 9, after 100 days. I'm sure you're going to be going through some sort of re-acclamation schedule, decompression schedule. And that is interesting to me. But I wonder what you're most excited about being able to do once you get out.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 26:15

Ah, I miss swimming, like true overhand crawl. You know, I was getting into the habit of a mile a day. And I truly love that, it's that water time. It's that counting, it's that in your head, the only one you can talk to is you. Swim, swim, breathe, swim, swim, breathe, you know, that rhythmatic thing, oh, it's so good. But haven't done that in a minute or two. So you know.

Chion Wolf 26:44

So you haven't been alone the whole time. You've had visitors, you've, you've had lots of media interviews, and it feels like we're pretty much in the same room right now. So it's not that you've been alone and isolated, but you really are quite physically alone. And I wonder if you anticipate missing that, or if you are, like, so stoked to be physically with more people more often.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 27:08

You and I, if you and I were in a room, I feel your energy, right? If you and I were in a room, I would have hugged you.

Chion Wolf 27:18

Turns out I'm really good at hugging, that would be great.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 27:20

Right? Like I am, I am a hugger. That's just the way it is. But like you would I would have hugged, I don't do that. There's no high-fiving, there's no handshake. Humans are tactile creatures. And that's the part that I miss. Even when you see people, they come down here, they're wet, you know, and so you don't do the initial hug, like when they walk in, there's no, you know, maybe you get a fist bump every now and again, I do a lot of high fives in the window. But there's not as much tactile input, as you have on a daily basis, just walking to the grocery store. I accidentally bumped into somebody oops, you know, nobody has accidentally bumped into me in 100 days. I mean, it's just that amount of tactile stimulation is non-existent. So this is something very, very new to me. And, you know, almost like, okay, hold on. Let me, let me wrap my arms around why I'm feeling this way. This introspective look has been really enlightening for Joe Dituri. Right? Because it's one of those. Oh, that's interesting.

Chion Wolf 28:21

Have you thought about getting a massage?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 28:23


Chion Wolf 28:26

Don't rule it out, Joe. Don't rule it out.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 28:29

Yeah, I mean, somebody's hands all over you, like, oh.

Chion Wolf 28:32

That's too much in the other direction.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 28:34

Too much in the other direction. Can we go slowly first?

Chion Wolf 28:39

I wonder about when you do put your head down on the pillow at night, as long as you've been down there, you know, you've had so much science to do. You've had so many media interviews and conversations with friends and other people who want to connect with you about this. And you put your head down on the pillow between those moments between consciousness and your amazing sleep state. What tends to go through your head?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 29:07

Wow, I'm just gonna go with that's the most unique question I've ever heard. And truly, I'm gonna dive myself out and I'm gonna tell you that I am a catastrophizer, right? So I am a catastrophizer. So, in those moments between wakened sleep, I literally sit there and go 'What could go wrong? What has gone wrong? What can I plan for more, better, whatever?' You know, like literally, I mean, this is the way the mind works, right? And what I have worked on doing myself because this is, it's not a fatal flaw in Joe. But it is certainly something that's there, right, this catastrophizing. I spent 27 years, eight months, 19 days in the Navy, being lauded for being able to see the problem before it happened. That's catastrophizing, right? And then when you get out, it doesn't work so well, it doesn't work well in the relationship. It doesn't work well, and it doesn't work well in business. It doesn't work, you know. So that is part of the thing that I had to work around while I was down here. And then here you are, you're facing yourself. And you're going, okay, Joe, what is it that you want to change? What can you control? What do you have no control over? Now meditate on that. Now, where are you? So once you start putting all this stuff together, and you start going, you can't go to the surface and do anything. You can't, you have no control, Joe, you're not allowed up there. There are all your friends circled up and they're having steaks one night, you cannot go up there.

Chion Wolf 30:45

Yeah, we're up here worrying about everything we want to worry about. And you're in this isolated place where your hands are tied.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 30:52

Exactly. So that letting go, it was so freeing. And I didn't do that until probably about day 60 or something like that, that I, you know, because I'm holding on to my fear and holding on to my catastrophizing. And, you know, I'm not saying that I'm perfect, I'm not saying that I'm over it. However, comma, I'm a work in progress. Joe is a work in progress, you know how that goes.

Chion Wolf 31:16

So I've asked everything that I knew I could fit into this time with the two minutes we have left. Is there anything that I didn't ask you about, something that you wish people would ask you about? And they never do? Like anything at all?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 31:27

You know, we've hit over 4000 kids in science, technology, engineering and math. And I am confident that I have high-fived the next Sylvia Earle or Elon Musk in this window right here. So I hope that they can come forward with that and be like, you know, crazy guy with the long hair that did that stupid thing back, you remember, 2023? Yeah, I remember that. Hopefully somebody will remember that. And they can be inspired to say, look, I explored. Look, I got out there. Look, I did something and I changed lives. So if we can walk away with that premise, we have one.

Chion Wolf 32:06

Well, Dr. Joe Dituri, thank you so much for talking with me, and we will talk with you when you get out.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 32:12

You are absolutely the best. Thank you. I look forward to talking with you.

Chion Wolf 32:17

After the break, we catch up with Joe after he reemerges to find out how his body is responding to life back on land after 100 days. And just nine days after he resurfaced, news of the implosion of the Titan submersible broke. As someone who spent 28 years as a submersible expert in the US Navy, what does he think about the future of underwater exploration after the Titan submersible implosion?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 32:42

We do things because, as Kennedy said, because they are hard. People want to still explore.

Chion Wolf 32:49

I'm Chion Wolf, this is Audacious. Be right back. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. When we last spoke with Dr. Joe Dituri, he was on day 93 of living in a hotel 30 feet underwater off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, as part of Project Neptune 100, an effort to study the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body, not only here on Earth, but also for when we eventually hop off this rock and head on over to other planets and galaxies. When he resurfaced on June 9, 2023, he set the Guinness world record for longest time spent living underwater. But he says he didn't do it for the record. He did it for science and for the kids he helped inspire while living down there. We reconnected 17 days after he came back to dry land. So how was he feeling?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 34:28

Reintegration is different. I thought I had a good plan. And I failed that plan really miserably by setting up a conference. I didn't set it up. It was, it was set up for four days after I got out of the water was the International Hyperbaric Association conference meeting and 1000 people wanting to stand in line and shake babies and kiss hands and I'm just like, oh God.

Chion Wolf 34:56

You know what's funny is we were talking about how you were looking forward to touch. You were saying, like, I want a hug, you know? And now you got it.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 35:06

Careful what we ask for, you will get it. Yeah, it was a bit daunting. Let's just put it that way. I have found myself short of breath. You know, my hemoglobin said like 12. And I haven't taken more than five steps in three and a half months, right. So it's like, oh, my shin hurts. So I'll give you a really stupid for instance. Like, I haven't worn shoes in 100 days. Right? So like, like, I did not, it didn't even register. I put on shoes. I got blisters on my feet. One day, I got blisters. I'm like, what the actual heck is going on here?

Chion Wolf 35:48

What other things have you noticed psychologically?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 35:55

I'm a very controlled person, right? Like, I'm a control-oriented person. Right? Again, just imagine I spent 28 years in the Navy being a control guy. And then I returned from the Navy, I tried to let some *bleep* go. And that, you know, it doesn't *bleep* go very well, stuff go. Sorry. So I settled into the fact that I had no control. I could not go to the surface. I could not fix the generator when it came time for the power to go out. And I was just like, just flip the switch. No, you just turn the switch. I can go up there and do it. But I can't, right? So I let go of all that. And then I came back out. And my business, after being in for 100 days, I hired somebody that was unable to do the things that I'm able to do. And I just, unfortunately, my business has suffered. So here I am, tap dancing around that. But don't get me wrong. There are many good things. So it's just been, I was stopped on the street by an older woman that said 'Hi, I saw you, you know you're doing your thing. You were underwater for 100 days, you inspired me.' So why, how? 'You inspired me that if you could stay underwater for 100 days, I could definitely stay on a diet for 30 days.' I was like, oh, like totally unintended consequence. Right? But that was it.

Chion Wolf 37:15

What was your first meal when he got out of there?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 37:17

Oh, cheeseburger 100%.

Chion Wolf 37:21

And you had said that you wanted to go swimming? Were you able to go swimming?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 37:25

I did. I swam and I about died.

Chion Wolf 37:29

How did you about die? What happened?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 37:31

Well, you go back and you you swim a mile, right? Well, the last thing that I was doing was I was swimming a mile and, like, you know, 35 minutes. And, like, almost 50 minutes later, here I am still swimming and going 'You are in not as good a shape as you were, buddy'. So, you know, it looks good from the outside. But the cardio was non-existent for 100 days. So could I have done cardio? I probably could have, hindsight being perfect. That would be something that I might consider doing next time. But whatever.

Chion Wolf 38:03

Was there gonna be a next time?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 38:05

Not tomorrow. Can we wait a minute?

Chion Wolf 38:09

Yeah, we can wait, we'll get back in touch.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 38:11

All right, yeah. It depends on how my life is going. If it's just so much easier underwater.

Chion Wolf 38:18

What do you miss the most about being underwater?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 38:24

Kids, the kids, you know, like I had a constant stream of kids. We touched base with almost over 5000 kids. In 100 days, that's 50 kids a day. So here we are, 50 kids a day, personal interaction with me. And you know, they all start off slumped and frumpy and, you know, back in their chairs, like I don't want, then they get closer and then they get closer. And then they're all standing in line. They don't go, don't go you know, so like, we got 'em, we got 'em. So like when you're changing the hearts and minds of young people, you know that you're changing the world. I mean, you have to be.

Chion Wolf 39:02

What would you have done differently about this experience?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 39:07

I would have started off from day one with the padded mattress, I would have maybe done more yoga in preparation for this and more push-ups in preparation for it. I believe that I strained my left pectoralis minor, the muscle that comes under your armpit. Yeah, I planned on doing 100 pushups a day for 100 days and I did it but it wound up being exceptionally painful, especially towards the end because I think I ripped it or hurt it. So I would have prepped a little better on that aspect. I would have done a lot more yoga beforehand because as you recall, I was going through a 36 inch opening, you know, eight times a day. So I'm 6' 1", or I was 6' 1". You know, bend in half, slide through, bend in half, slide through. Oh boy, you know, I never thought my back would be aching as much as it did, but it just was not. It was not. It was less than perfect, how's that?

Chion Wolf 40:06

You said you were 6' 1", what are you now?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 40:10

I'm six foot and a half an inch. I shrunk just over a half an inch. Which makes sense, right? Because astronauts are in tension. So they're kind of, no gravitational pull, they're pulling apart consistently, Aqua knots are in compression, because there's almost twice the amount of pressure on me than there is on the surface. So that took a toll.

Chion Wolf 40:35

Do you think you're gonna get it back?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 40:37

I don't know, when you're 6' 1", you could lose a little bit, but I don't know. Yeah. It's like, 'Hey, your hair's long, your eyes are blue. What are you gonna do?' You can get a haircut, but you can't change your eye color. So yeah.

Chion Wolf 40:50

When you are so much older, and looking back on your life. And you remember this experience is 100 days under the water. How do you think you'll summarize what it meant to you?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 41:07

Even if we don't get good science out of this, which I believe we're going to, we moved mountains. We talked with like 60 experts, PhDs, MDs, you know, people talk about preservation, protection, rejuvenation, marine environment, we hit over 5000 kids who are all thinking about careers in science, technology, engineering and math for the marine environment. And we're like, 'hey, there's a sea horse out there'. And they're like, 'Wait, what?' Yes, seahorse hippocampus, you know, the workhorse of the ocean, the business end of the ocean, the people who are out there to protect the ocean, man, and they don't need to become marine scientists that maybe they want to become a lawyer. But they can be a lawyer that has the bent on, hey, let's do marine preservation. Let's do a little bit of you know, marine archaeology, marine architecture, that kind of thing. You know, like, hey, I was high-fiving kids in the window that they still hit me on Instagram. And they're like, 'My mom said, I could contact you. I was the one that was, do you remember me?' And I'm like, 'of course, I remember you.' You know, like, 1000s of kids, you know, but you're just like, wow, you moved, you moved mountains. So that's what I think happened. That's what I think we did. And hopefully, we're getting people to understand that you can do research, you can do cool things underwater, exploration is fun and interesting. And oh, boy, let's get it, you know.

Chion Wolf 42:37

And I hate to turn the boat, so to speak, this direction. But, of course, I'd love to hear your response to the Titan submersible. Five people killed on June 18, as they were going to explore the remains of the Titanic. I don't know, I'd just like to hear what your feelings are on all that.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 42:58

This is exploration. And it's gut-wrenching. You know, it's gut-wrenching when people are just chasing their dream. And they get cut short, and it is just horrible. But we as a society need to explore, we need to continue this exploration process. And the hardest place to do it is in the water. So I mean, when you think about the pressure, you think about 5000, 6000 pounds per square inch, at that depth. It's crazy. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. But it's not. And, you know, I mourn for the loss and their friends and family, at least they have closure, at this point. That's the only saving grace that they know what happened. And hopefully, they understand that it happened quickly and that there was no real suffering. And I just hope that this doesn't dissuade people from needing to get out there and explore, from wanting to get out there and explore and doing it the correct way. And I mean, making sure that all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. I mean, this is why I did, in an abundance of caution, I did a considerable extra amount of decompression prior to surfacing. And everybody's like, 'No, the math doesn't support it. You're doing too much.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I know.' But I do not want to fall over on national TV, and make it look bad for the entire mission.

Chion Wolf 44:29

Do you think that this awareness that we are now building around risk-taking in exploration may lead to fewer people being interested in exploring or maybe it isn't quite so cut and dry?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 44:46

Quite the contrary. We do things because, as Kennedy said, because they are hard, right? We want to succeed and we need to build better, build stronger, build back. People want to still explore, people know it's dangerous. We're learning. We're doing things better, lessons learned, right? I mean, there's a lot of lessons learned that we can take away, you know that we can talk about design characteristics and classing of vehicles and vessels and undersea systems. And, you know, there are many things that we can take away that are good lessons learned from this. But to the contrary, I think that, that it might actually increase the amount of people that want to take that kind of a risk, and go boldly, but explore with gusto, if you will.

Chion Wolf 45:41

For those who have a curious spirit, but maybe struggle with fear about moving forward with plans to explore whatever it is they're curious about, especially if there's some sense of risk, what words of wisdom do you have? For any of us who are pausing at the fear?

Dr. Joseph Dituri 46:02

Ah, wow, you are profound! So fear, in my opinion, estimation, comes from lack of knowledge, right? If you can catastrophize very well, like if you can look at a situation and go, 'I can see 16 ways where that part will fail.' You're actually somebody that can see through the issue, right, so you have to start learning the system of systems that are going to keep you alive. So when you know and you know, all the possible failure points and you've designed and worked through in your head, what can go wrong, then and only then can you feel safer and move forward? See, people think I'm a risk-taker. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no, I am a calculator. I am cold calculating. I'm gonna give you okay, the probability of this is this. And, well, the probability of dog balling is that so I think it's less probability than the probability of dog balling I think that's probably good probability. Okay, bam. Right. So you, you learn your stuff. And then, and then practice, you know.

Chion Wolf 47:11

Well, Dr. Joe Dituri, thank you so very much for talking with me, and welcome back.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 47:16

You are an absolute pleasure. Keep in touch, all right?

Chion Wolf 47:19

Will do, my friend. Thank you. Peace.

Dr. Joseph Dituri 47:22


Chion Wolf 47:24

Audacious is always lovingly produced by Melody Rivera, Jessica Severin de Martinez, Khaleel Rahman, Meg Fitzgerald, Meg Dalton, and Catie Talarski at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, with help from our interns, Stacey Addo and Carol Chen. This episode was part of NautiWeek where a bunch of shows from Connecticut Public set their sights on the seas. You can listen to all of them at ctpublic.org/nautiweek. That's N-A-U-T-I week. And if you want to hear more water-related Audacious stories, check out the one we did about messages in bottles, including one that was thrown from the Titanic. You can find that episode and so many more stories that will blow your mind at ctpublic.org/audacious or wherever you get your podcasts. And now that you know we're working on an episode featuring your favorite piece of life advice, go ahead and let us know about yours and what it means to you. Send an audio clip or video to me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at Chion Wolf. Or you can send an email to audacious@ctpublic.org. Thanks for listening.