I have no idea why I was excited about meeting Kristi today. Perhaps it stems from the finally getting through to her to lock down a date and time. Or because I could tell from her email address, that she works a dive shop and she gets to spend a lot of time underwater.
One of my favorite places to be. As it turns out, it is one of hers too.
From dark dives into the underground caverns in Florida to swimming with tiger sharks off the coast of North Carolina, Kristi has gone to places most people only dream about. “When I was ten, I used to watch Dr. Eugenie Clark on TV, and that’s where I fell in love with sharks and water. I wanted to keep her dream alive.” And she is while helping other people live out theirs as well. Her warning to them: “If you don’t know the risks you won’t know what to train for.”
According to the company website (cavecountrydiving.com) “Kristi is a highly trained diver and scuba instructor holding many certifications for technical and cave diving as well as being a certified closed circuit rebreather diver.”
But here’s what it doesn’t tell you. Kristi is also a mother of a teenager and an artist. Her paintings and drawings are inspirited by religious art from the Italian Renaissance. Both her mother and grandfather were artists. “I remember seeing my mom’s sketch book as a little girl and wanting to draw like her.”
Born in New York, Kristi’s family moved around a lot. She lived in Oahu, spent her high school years in Virginia, and now lives and works in the small town of High Springs, Florida which is located about 25 north of Gainesville. It’s here she had a cup of coffee for breakfast.
Halfway through our hour long conversation, I learned that Kristi and I had a lot in common. We both love water. We both love coffee for breakfast. We both love art – especially Italian art. We both had grandparents who were artist, and like her I too studied design in college. Believe it or not, we both have swum with sharks. Although she purposefully went looking for them, I simply ran into them, and even stepped on one while surfing.
Unlike me, Kristi is the oldest in her family. She also married at the young age of 21 to the man who taught her to dive. "My first dive change my life.” But the real game changer came when he convinced her to go into the caves with him. "That's when I was really challenged."
Just so we're clear, cave dives are different then open water dives. In the labyrinth of holes tucked under ground, there’s very little if any light at all. More than just being claustrophobic, there is a risk of getting lost and never making it out. Thankfully, Kristi has lived to tell me all about it. ‘
If she could go anywhere, it would be Italy. If she could give her younger self some wisdom from today, Kristi would go back that awkward stage between Middle School and High School and tell herself, “It doesn’t matter fitting in. Life is short. Make the most of your time.”
You might be asking how has Kristi made the most of her time? Well, she has never sailed a boat. She has never shot a crossbow. She did try a speargun but “it’s just not for me.” And believe it or not, she hasn’t seen a Muppet movie so she has no idea what Fozzy Bear (her favorite Muppet) is up to. “But have you seen some of Jim Henson's other movies? Like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal?” I had not, so I guess I have some more living to do too. Which is good, considering I still have five more people to meet.
I asked Kristi if this had been worth the time and effort. She offered me an authentic smile and said, “Yes. We seem to have a lot in common.” It seems like I wasn't the only thinking that. I also took her words as a complement; one that came from a person who confidently described herself as “an adventurer, very loyal, curious, and creative.” (Like me!)
In a world where we are so divided over the smallest things, it’s good to meet with people to find our commonality. The way to do this is to meet people where they are. You can start on the surface with a kind conversation. But if you ask me, the real joy of getting to know someone is by diving in and exploring the real beauty that lies beneath the surface. If you're lucky, you'll meet someone interesting like Kristi.