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99-Year-Old Man Sets Diving World Record

PEARL LAKE, Ill. — A 99-year-old man made history earlier this month when he set the scuba diving world record to become the world's oldest diver.

Accompanied by a crew of 30 friends and support divers, Bill Lambert celebrated his 99th birthday on September 5 by taking the plunge in Illinois' 35-acre Pearl Lake. Surprisingly, however, Lambert is relatively new to the sport.

According to Dan Johnson, 35-year owner and operator of Loves Park Scuba, Lambert wandered into his dive shop last November and started taking dive lessons on a whim. He came back a few times, then came back a few more times.

When Dan learned that Bill was in contention to become the world's oldest diver, the team at Loves Park Scuba set out on a path to get him certified in Cozumel. He came in and trained an average of 2-3 times/week to practice.

The day of the 99th-birthday dive, Johnson and his team pulled out all the stops to throw Lambert a party befitting the occasion.

"There were 30 people there, we had a cookout, we had a dive boat on scene at Pearl Lake. We had a private changing room for him, we played music—there was even an announcer!" Johnson said. "It was like the scene before a professional fight or something."

"We wanted to make sure there were no SNAFUs," he continued. "We helped him get in the lake and once he was in the water, we put the tank on him so that his body wouldn't feel any weight."

After safety checks and prepping Lambert, Dan and a few others accompanied the 99-year-old down to explore an artificially wrecked school bus at a depth of 32 feet. The dive lasted for just over 20 minutes and visibility was roughly 20 feet.

99-Year-Old Man Sets Diving World Record
Dan Johnson (left) and Bill Lambert (center) prep to break the world record. Greg Kent photo.

During his time pool training at Loves Park Scuba, Lambert practiced breathing via long hoses so he could become accustomed to being underwater and equalizing. A tank came later.

A surprising fact: all of the world-record holder's scuba lessons and certifications at Loves Park Scuba came free of charge. Moreover, the dive center is regionally known for its altruistic dive programs focused on seniors and children with autism. "All the kids that come in with autism and dive in our pool," Johnson explains, "we don't charge for it. All of our time is donated. It's just something that we do to give back."

As a guiding modus operandi, Johnson believes that diving with nitrox can be therapeutic for older divers. In fact, Loves Park Scuba has created a custom program for seniors—which Lambert is a part of—that teaches older folks how to dive while giving them high levels of nitrox in a controlled, safe setting.

"It works out really well. Diving with high levels of Nitrox is extremely good for us, it's like a hyperbaric chamber," Johnson explains. "My swimming pool is 11 feet deep, which is roughly 1.3 atmospheres. The same level most hyperbaric chambers are running at. So Bill's been getting a little hyperbaric treatment at the same time that he's exercising, and it's been extremely fruitful for him."

99-Year-Old Man Sets Diving World Record

In addition to pursuing his late-formed passion for diving and claiming a world record, Lambert still works, albeit part time. A metallurgist by trade, he still goes into the shop and gets his hands dirty once a week.

Despite having shattered the world record previously held by 96-year-old Ray Woolley, Lambert isn't planning on slowing down his diving exploits any time soon. As of press time, he is training hard to break his own record next September when he'll be celebrating his centennial, hopefully underwater.