Barbara Culatta was going to die. As she floated some 90 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean in an oxygen-deprived daze, that much seemed certain.
At age 55, Culatta, then a new professor at BYU, fulfilled her dream of certifying as a scuba diver. “I’ve never seen myself as being a terribly adventuresome or courageous person,” says Culatta, petite and soft-spoken. She’d had few opportunities to develop her talents as a youth—she didn’t learn to swim until she was in college—and she sensed that an important part of her character lay fallow, waiting.
So when she learned colleagues from the Department of Communication Disorders were preparing for extended scuba trips to see sharks and sunken ships off the coast of Thailand, the newly certified diver jumped on board.
But during a dive on their second trip, in the summer of 2003, the adventure turned perilous. Swimming into a strong current, Culatta suddenly found herself feeling suffocated and disoriented, and, in confused panic, she pulled the air regulator from her mouth. As precious seconds ticked away, there was first resignation, then a desperate prayer, then a voice that focused her mind and jolted her training into action.
Retrieving and clearing her air regulator, Culatta was able to stabilize herself until the divemaster could assist her to the surface.
“I was shaken,” Culatta remembers, though not for long. Before the trip ended, she summoned the courage to take another plunge. “I am proud that I chose to dive after almost losing my life.”
For Culatta scuba diving has revealed a hidden world of sea creatures and coral forests. But more important, she says, it has uncovered a hidden part of herself—“the adventuresome spirit that I do have.”