Interviews

The Shark Diver: Cristina Zenato

When you've got to swim with the sharks, you better be prepared for the physical challenge.

Name: Cristina Zenato
Occupation: Shark Diver
Age: 45

If you're looking for true badass of the sea, look no further than Cristina Zenato. With 20 plus years experience exploring the depths of the world's most magnificent and dangerous bodies of water, Christina has pretty much seen and done it all. From exploring underwater caves to swimming with the sharks, she's always willing to dive in for a new adventure and, so far, has always surfaced to tell her story. Here's a little bit more about this resilient underwater explorer, and how she trains maintains her superior performance on the job.  

M&F: Tell us briefly about your job and how long have you been doing it.

CZ: Considering I have been doing it for the last 23 years it becomes a little hard to be brief, but I shall try. My primary job is working underwater, I am an instructor trainer, a cave diver instructor and explorer and a shark diver. My days have no routine and the variety of jobs keeps me active and interested. To be underwater you can either find me out on a boat or hiking through the Bahamas forest with gear on my shoulders.

What got you interested in the profession?

I always wanted to be an underwater scuba ranger, a guardian of the reef and the environment and all the animals in it. The real opportunity I had to become a professional was when I decided to travel to take my first scuba course. I was hooked. I went back home (at the time Italy) and quit everything, job, boyfriend, car, apartment to come back (to the Bahamas) where I made diving my life and this country my home. From then it was easier to keep diving and to grow professionally and become involved with so many different aspects of it. I never once looked back and never left.

What physical demands does your job entail?

The job is physical because I have to deal with being outdoors and under the elements, so it can be extremely hot or, believe it or not, even in the Bahamas, rather cold. It is physical because I am out on boats, rough seas, I carry heavy gear and when cave diving it’s a lot of effort to simply reach the entrance of the cave. Furthermore I am submerged for several times per day and that can cause dehydration and hypothermia.  When working with sharks I wear a heavy protective suit and I have to move around in it above and below the water, against waves, currents and other elements, not to mention sharks themselves can require some good physical and mental stamina.

Why is it important you be physically fit for your job?

It provides with good strength to deal with the demands of carrying gear, managing personal body in the hard environments, walking, swimming, balancing on the boat,  it is very dynamic and active. Being fit allows you to be more agile and strong enough to deal with unforeseen circumstances, assist of those in your care without becoming tired or short of breath. I also feel that being fit is a good prevention method against injuries. Strong muscles can withstand better different types of traumas and recover faster.

How do you train for your job?

My job trains me, it is so physical it keeps me always in good shape, yet I still add my training consists of three primary elements: running, swimming and yoga. Other sports and activities are not on a specific schedule. I use running as my cardio in the morning; it’s my charging moment and the way I focus prior of my day. I alternate running with long walks with my three dogs. Swimming is specific to my job, I always want to feel comfortable in the water and by swimming I exercise and develop those necessary muscles. It also helps with being comfortable with water in the nose, in the eyes, in the throat and to understand fatigue brought on by in water activities.

Yoga is my disconnecting at the end of my day, the healer on the tough days and the strengthener on the others. My teacher has taken me through two Indian disciplines and I alternate them as needed to achieve those two purposes. When people ask me if I lift weights I answer no, but it’s not really a correct answer. I may not lift weights at the gym, but I lift weights all day long: the gear I use every day, many times per day, in many situations, walking, hiking, climbing ladders, hiking with it to reach the diving spot, back and forth. The other weight I lift one is my own body weight. Through yoga I have numerous postures that require the full body weight over shoulders, wrists, arms, biceps/triceps and legs. Balancing and flowing through these poses is as efficient as lifting weights. 

What is your typical diet each day?

I really don’t have a typical diet each day because each day is very different. My schedule is so erratic that I may be traveling and sitting on a plane for 12 hours, then find myself diving and working very hard, to then be on an expedition and having to eat what’s available for the team. In general I make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, to not skip meals and to keep hydrated as required by my body, not the charts.

My diet is traditionally rich in vegetables, basic proteins like eggs, milk or certain kind of beans, but I can change it depending on what’s available.  I supplement with Isopure protein powders and when out on a boat with the protein drink. I use natural fats like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil; I snack on pieces of coconuts, which I pick on the beach as I walk, almonds and some peanut butter. I consume seasonal fruit when it’s available off the trees: mangoes, papaya, bananas, avocados and some other small local ones like coco plums or sea grapes. But when not in season I don’t eat them. I don’t consume sugar, but for honey in my tea and I never drink any kind of alcohol.

With my work and schedule, not to mention location, it is very hard to always find everything desired, so I have learned to adapt and to listen to my body so I can respond accordingly.


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