Hello friends. My name is Ashleigh Baird and I’m a water lover turned competitive freediver.

My passion for being in and under the water came from early childhood adventures of exploring Florida’s beaches, islands and fresh water springs. Before I even knew what the term meant, this passion quickly turned me into a freediving grom. Soon I was holding my breath on road trips, experimenting with different mental techniques, and finding creative ways to get in and under the water whenever I could.

Family adventures aside, my childhood was less than idyllic. At the age of 7 my health suddenly began to deteriorate. Spending months in and out of hospitals, taking countless tests, and often leaving with more questions than answers, we were finally we were referred to a pediatric infectious disease specialist and ultimately I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder.

The first few years were the most difficult; sometimes unable to walk after a full day of school or unable to feed myself in the mornings. Life as I knew it had changed. I was no longer able to participate in any athletic activities and eventually it even became impossible to attend school. Being so limited to what I could do physically, it took many years of slow progression and experimentation to find ways to rebuild my strength and endurance. It was very difficult, but this was my first lesson on patience. By the time I discovered competitive freediving, I had regained enough stamina to be counted as outwardly “normal” among friends and classmates, but I had nothing that could be considered a strong athletic background.

Ignoring what I knew would be a potential physical setback, in 2011 I made the decision to chase my dream and I jumped head first into the world of competitive freediving, quickly discovering a community of athletes that proved to be one of the most tremendous gifts for my health and well-being. I say this because many of the athletes I’ve met along this journey hashleigh-2ave not only shared their hard-won knowledge, but their own similar stories of personal struggle and triumph.

Becoming a competitive freediver has taken me on an incredible journey, one that I would not have thought possible 20 years ago. If anything, it has taught me that the human body is truly amazing – capable of more than we may imagine if we can only learn to listen and have patience, while ever pressing onward.

Since attending that first event, competitive freediving has taken me on a global journey; traveling to over a dozen countries ranging from the South Pacific to Eastern Europe for photo shoots, competitions, and just plain fun. Looking back it’s easy to see that it hasn’t been a straight path – nor an easy one – but my growth as an athlete has been both remarkable and unexpected and I’m loving every second of it. Over the last 5 years I’ve learned that being a water woman means finding strength within yourself and learning to treat our bodies just as the water does. Water has this beautiful way of showing you who you are – your faults, fears, dreams, even your ego – which can be very humbling, but it also teaches you how to work with yourself. How to apply pressure in some cases, while learning to step back and be patient with it in others.

As a competitive freediver you learn to surrender to the water rather than fight with it – and if you can give yourself to the depths, it will take you places you never would have imagined.

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You can follow Ashleigh’s journey through social media (@deepleigh) where she shares the magic of the underwater world through the eyes of a freediver.