Mandy-Rae Cruickshank grew up wanting to be a marine biologist who worked with great white sharks.
Although Cruickshank, now 35, grew up in landlocked Edmonton, she spent most of her time in the water and became a lifeguard and a competitive synchronized swimmer as a teen.
Then she met a marine biologist and he talked her out of a career that took years of expensive education.
“So I thought I’d be a scuba instructor. That sounds like a good way to stay in the water,” says Cruickshank
At 20, she moved to Vancouver and started teaching scuba. She ended up teaching instructors and managing a dive shop.
Then she met her future husband, Kirk Krack, in 2000, and he introduced her to free diving. Eighteen months later she broke her first world record in the sport.
Free diving basically involves going down into the water as far as you can while holding your breath. No tanks, just fins and a mask.
There are nine different competitive disciplines in the sport — they measure either time underwater or distance travelled in either a pool or in the ocean — and Cruickshank holds world records in seven of them.
Krack was already running Performance Freediving when they met. In 2006, the company started getting busy enough for Cruickshank to quit her job and help full-time.
The couple runs four-day courses in free diving to groups all around the world. Sometimes it’s just recreational divers, but they’ve also trained photographers and celebrities such as Tiger Woods and so-called endurance artist David Blaine.
Teaching days are long and physically exhausting. By the end of a course, participants can hold their breath for as long as five minutes underwater, dive as deep as 132 feet and practise good water safety.
You can black out while doing these dives and without a buddy in the water you can die.
For the record, she can hold her breath for 6 minutes and 25 seconds.
Even when she’s travelling, Cruickshank is constantly on her laptop and BlackBerry, taking care of the business side of the company. “When you’re running your own company, you sometimes don’t get days off,” she says.
Recently, Performance Freediving opened an office in Vancouver, so staff are now helping out with some of the administrative work.
The couple spends every May in the Cayman Islands, training and competing in free diving. That’s where Cruickshank has broken her world records.
They also get hired by documentary film crews to help with ocean shoots.
“The best decision I ever made was giving up a desk job to do something I love.”