Why world-renowned cave diver Jill Heinerth says it's 'important to be scared'

World-renowned cave diver Jill Heinerth shares her harrowing journeys into the depths of Antarctic icebergs, underwater caves and shipwrecks with CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Underwater explorer is sharing harrowing tales at local schools this month

World-renowned cave diver Jill Heinerth will be speaking in schools across Ontario and Quebec this month, sharing harrowing stories about exploring the depths of Antarctic icebergs, underwater caves and shipwrecks. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

As one of the world's best cave divers, Jill Heinerth explores the darkest and deepest parts of the globe — and even crawls into crevices no other human has ever entered. 

Anybody can do this if they have the dream to chase it.- Jill  Heinerth , cave diver

Heinerth recently moved to Carleton Place, Ont., and she's now sharing her stories at schools across the region as the first ever explorer-in-residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

"Lots of the places I've been and documented with my camera nobody else has ever seen before," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday.

"I hoped that — by doing this very publicly — that I could inspire young kids and let them know that anybody can do this if they have the dream to chase it."

'Complete darkness'

Heinerth chose to explore underwater caves for a living to contribute to a better understanding of the planet — even if it's one of the world's most dangerous jobs.

One of her riskiest ventures, Heinerth said, was sifting through crevices and tunnels inside one of the largest icebergs in Antarctica — a frigid behemoth roughly the size of Jamaica.

She nearly ended up stuck inside because of a large current that flowed through the crevice she was exploring.

Canadian cave diver Jill Heinerth inside a 350,000 year old cave on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. (Jill Heinerth)

"Imagine yourself crawling through a room in complete darkness and having to thread your way beneath the seats and chairs, following a piece of string — with very delicate life support equipment providing you your next breath," she said.

"Cave diving is definitely not for everyone."

'I certainly have nightmares'

Despite the risks, Heinerth said she continues to push forward with her career because she believes there's still many places on the globe to be explored and discovered. 

"I certainly have nightmares," Heinerth said. "I have this horrible list of over 100 close colleagues and friends that have lost their lives in diving accidents — and for many of the them, I have given the eulogies at their funerals.

Jill Heinerth is a world famous cave diver. (Courtesy Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

"I also think about how their lives have served education. And I think about them all the time."

Visiting schools in Ontario, Quebec

Now, Heinerth is conducting three one-week tours across the country.

From April 16 to 20, she'll be visiting schools across Ontario and Quebec, recounting her journeys into the depths of icebergs, underwater caves and shipwrecks.

She'll also share photographs of several places no other human has ever seen, in the hopes of inspiring students to pursue their dreams — even if they're daunting.

"It's important to be scared," Heinerth said. "Because it means you care about the outcome of what you are doing."