Deborah Andollo López: “Cuba is My Home, My Country”

Deborah Andollo López: “Cuba is My Home, My Country”
Fecha de publicación: 
4 March 2024
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This was stated exclusively to the Cuban News Agency in a Special for CubaSí, the outstanding Cuban world record holder in freediving, who 13 years ago settled in Cozumel, Mexico. She clarified, only 61 miles separate us.

From the boat all eyes were directed towards the sea. An anguished silence reigned; the wait was just as torturous...until finally the undine emerged from the depths once again triumphant. This was the case since 1992 until 2002, when she achieved 16 world records in various types of freediving.

I met Deborah Andollo López at that time when she began to successfully venture into the Deep Blue. Then I witnessed many of her world performances in Cuba. I visited her home, I talked with her mother, Delia Elena López Bellver, but usually called Cuquita; and I admired her pets back then. It was when I published other materials about the winning athlete, born in May 1967, with a degree in Physical Training and a lung capacity of six liters.

Time went by and social networks reconnected us. Thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp, communication from decades ago returned and we agreed to bring it back into news again.

She accepted the challenge of speaking for the Cuban News Agency (ACN) and we now share the dialogue exclusively for the readers of CubaSí about the intense daily life of someone who for 10 years was among the ten best athletes of the year on earth.

How long have you lived outside Cuba and what do you do, competitively speaking, after quitting freediving? Is your statement true that: "I can't imagine a life away from the sea"?

Since 2011 we’ve lived in Cozumel, Mexico. It’s a small island, close to Cuba, just 61 miles separate us from San Antonio Cape. Its fundamental commercial activity is diving and cruise tourism; in the last 15 years it has become a high-level global sports reference, because it holds several Ironman triathlon and open water swimming events (OceanMan). It became the ideal destination for our children to grow and develop. Our lives are attached to the sea, undoubtedly.

In addition to caring for the family, what is Deborah's day-to-day life like?

I offer advice for the implementation of apnea teaching methodology and preparation methods for apneas; Additionally, I’m a personal trainer for (adult) open water swimmers. Eventually I give intensive courses for summer seasons to babies.

I was hired as sports director at the Cumbres Cozumel school and was later selected as deputy sports director at the municipal level. I’ve participated as an advisor to improve methodological programs for swimming instruction in the teaching stages.

On the other hand, family duties are demanding: Olivia Testi Andollo, my youngest daughter - 15 years old - is a swimmer, she trains six days a week between four and six hours a day, she lives the life of a high-performance athlete, only with the family support. Here, we don’t have schools of such a level by the State, so I have to be driver, psychologist, cook, biomechanist, sponsor, and pamperer. Fortunately, she is being prepared by a team of very capable Cuban trainers.

I know that you have your parents, other family members and friends in Cuba. What do you feel every time you return to your island, because Cozumel is the island of adoption?

I keep a very close bond with the land where I was born. Cozumel opened its doors to us as an alternative home and I feel grateful because it became our second home. Cuba, Havana, Santa María, Vedado, the Isle of Youth (...) my heart was stolen there, I always find a reason to return and find myself again.

What do you remember most fondly from your long sporting life as a swimmer, member of the national synchronized swimming team, then as a diving model and from there to a multi-record freediver?

An extensive sporting career, which... looking back, seems to have been designed with complete intention. Each of the stages were a step, to then build a long and steep staircase of learning, successes, many joys, few sadnesses and so much emotion. It’s difficult for me to remember them as isolated events, they seem more like a jumble of events with perfect symbiosis. I had to go through the previous steps to get to the next one, without skipping one. I had to stay in one for a while and then dedicate more time to the other, like when you stop during a climb and catch your breath or investigate the shortest and most correct route. I was lucky to learn and enjoy so much, and provide excitement, pride and joy to an entire town, without a doubt that is the most valuable thing.

You told me that you keep your house in Cuba: is it where you have the trophies, medals and newspaper clippings or are they with you in Mexican land?

Santa María has been my home for more than two decades, a good part of my eldest son Ernesto Testi Andollo's (now 25 years old) childhood happened there. It was the headquarters of so many meetings when we formed the rescued Cuban Federation of Underwater Activities (FCAS), an organization that I presided from 2005-2011.

My parents have wanted to keep some of my awards, another part of them remain in my residence in Playas del Este and others accompany me in Cozumel; there’s a little bit of me in every corner, so nostalgia becomes more bearable.

In another interview you declared: “I’m a an athlete in every cell of my body, swimming became my passion, I swim every day in the sea, in open waters, I adore the freedom of this immensity that surrounds me, its colors, the peace and clarity of its waters (referring to Cozumel ). During the year I alternate swimming in open water with gym-weight training, swimming and hatha yoga, swimming and running” (…) “life is simple and harmonious.” Is that still your philosophy of life?

I discovered open water swimming here, I was always a pool swimmer (she started at age four in Ciudad Deportiva and also served as captain of the national synchronized swimming team) and then a model, diver and freediver. Upon arrival I found a sensitive population interested in learning about the marine environment and I decided to train myself on events and preparation programs for open waters.

When I get into something, I become obsessed, so I went all in. I discovered a wonderful, healthy, intrepid and daring proposal: I loved it!

I formed a group of open water swimmers. The called us the sharks, we managed to make island crossings and participate in forums that have now become very relevant. I thought that stopping competing in freediving would be the end of my sporting career, but no, life surprises me once again! I’m no longer seduced by competition, but I’m passionate about preparing adults who choose to test their abilities. I create training programs: I train them and accompany them!

There are times of the year when I don't have much time, so I settle for lapping in the ocean, protected by my signaling buoy, paddles and fins, with that I can be very happy.

Tell me about the family: about your husband and the two children.

Eric Testi is French, my life and adventure partner for 27 years. We met diving and now the passion we share is swimming in open waters, we barely have an hour without work commitments, we go for swims; he is a very good swimmer, so, to preserve my dignity as an athlete, I do my best and don't let myself win. Together we have achieved a strengthened team, survivors of distance and cultural differences.

Olivia is a swimmer by choice, she is obsessed with her training, she works hard to keep up with her early mornings and long hours of school work. She also likes acting and modeling and she is a good communicator and eloquent in her oral expression, perhaps one day she will surprise us as an actress. Ernesto is a recent graduate as a web designer and illustrator. He reveals himself to us as a very creative and skilled plastic artist. He speaks four languages and studied for five years in Belgium.

This family also shares a passion for pets; especially dogs. Many have accompanied Eric and me in these almost three decades, they are always present in our lives. Now we have a pair: the Doberman Lady Gaga, and Tita, who is barely six months old. They both get along very well.

Did you ever feel fear in the depths, of course without mentioning the case of the accident from which you recovered (a blackout that left you unconscious in 1999)?

There’s no fear when you freedive, much less when you dedicate yourself to training and breaking world records. At some point I trained with a great Chilean athlete, Mike Rapu, one day he confessed to me that he felt terrified when he reached 70 meters. He picked up his things and returned to Easter Island, since then he stopped his career as a champion, continued fishing and today is a great businessman. I confess that on that day I was scared, because I came to think that fear could be necessary, it puts you in a conservative but also conformist position. I didn't stop and kept training wrapped in my “NO FEAR”. That same year - referring to 1999 - I achieved the absolute mark for men and women of 74 meters in free body.

In Cuba, besides Trinidad, where else did you practice freediving and what was your favorite place to exercise?

I began my preparation in Ancón and Costa Azul, in Trinidad town, shortly after the usual training base moved to the Colony Hotel, Isle of Youth. I eventually trained in Cayo Largo del Sur. The place that I remember most fondly is the “Colony” and Punta Francia, both in the Isle of Youth.

Are you a feminist and are you against gender violence?

Feminism is understood as the principle of equal rights of women and men, as an ideology it’s divided into two large branches, the feminism of equality and the feminism of difference. Considering that it’s a trend that gained importance since the beginning of the 20th century, some advances were made in terms of education, paid work, and political participation of women; it was possible to impact public opinion and draw the attention of authorities in order to generate institutional and regulatory changes. There’s still a long way to go. I was never a victim of violence or discrimination, but this feeling of solidarity identifies me with these causes that I recognize as useful and necessary. I am against any manifestation of gender violence.

Do you miss your underwater forays to search for new records?

That time has passed, I enjoyed it to the fullest, the sweet memory remains and I recreate them in my mind with joy and pride.

What is Cuba for you?

My home, my country.
World records by Déborah Andollo López (Havana, Cuba, 1967)
• 40 m free body – May 1992, Varadero, Cuba
• 50 m free body – May 1992, Varadero, Cuba.
• 60 m constant ballast – November 1992, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 52 m free body – May 1993, Varadero, Cuba.
• 61 m constant ballast – June 1993, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba.
• 80 m variable ballast – February 1994, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 60 m free body – May 1994, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 85 m variable ballast – November 1995, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 110 m No Limits – May 1996, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 62 m constant ballast – October 1996, Sardinia, Italy.
• 90 m variable ballast – July 1997, Sardinia, Italy.
• 65 m constant ballast – December 1997, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
• 95 m variable ballast – July 2000, Parhelia, Italy.
• 115 m No Limits – July 2000, Parhelia, Italy.
• 74 m free body – July 2001, Isle of Youth, Cuba (Absolute World Record)
• 100 m variable ballast – July 2002, Giulio Island, Italy

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