Are you ready to meet the mother of all Indiana Joneses?
Mehgan Heaney-Grier holds a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as anthropology. She established the first U.S. freedive record for both men and women in 1996, with a dive to an astonishing 165 feet on a single breath of air. She carries a dive belt instead of a bullwhip. She’s a mom, not a professor-in-disguise with Sean Connery for a dad. No word on whether she hates snakes as much as Indy did, but we’re getting the idea that she doesn’t love them in quantity.
And she’s the sole woman on Discovery Channel’s Treasure Quest: Snake Island, which premiers tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. CT. When Discovery offered GeekMom the opportunity to talk with her, plus exclusive sneak peeks? We jumped at the chance. So grab your snake-spray and your treasure map and come meet Mehgan!
GeekMom: You’re dive-master for the expedition on Snake Island. What does that involve? How long are the dives?
Mehgan Heaney-Grier: It entails a little of everything, from rallying up gear and tanks, to planning the dives and working the sites. I was brought onto the team in large part for my dive expertise and water experience working on marine crews for various projects, productions, and field work—as well as my degree in anthropology and studies in archeology. I really enjoy working with a team and this expedition was no exception! Captain Keith, who is also on the team, and I worked closely together on planing the dives and dive safety throughout the expedition. He also has a background in marine archeology, so we did most of the site dives and documentation together as well… it was really amazing in the waters off of Brazil, a perfect opportunity to totally dork out on all of the historical components that were involved! Dive length would vary depending on the site and depth of course, but it is always a good day when spent underwater.
GM: Did you watch/read adventure stories as a kid? What kinds?
MHG: I did! I was a big fan of adventure books when I was a kid. My all time favorite was Island of the Blue Dolphins. I also loved adventure movies and shows too, like reruns of Sea Hunt and all nature shows—I couldn’t get enough!
GM: You use a lot of math and science in your planning for the expeditions. Can you elaborate?
MHG: That is true, but I will be the first to admit that math is really not my department. I am more of the science and water buff! We did use a lot of new technology while on our expedition, which was a true advantage, as well as science and mathematics. There was a code to be cracked and we all worked very hard… I can’t disclose much more than that though!
[GeekMom Sidebar: We are intrigued.]
GM: When did you first realize that pushing extreme envelopes was your “geekpoint”—if it is? Do you have other things you love to do?
MHG: I have always loved the personal challenge, so it is safe to say it is what I “geek out on.” I love to get out there, in nature, on the road, on the water… wherever! I love to explore new places, paddle board, backpack, camp, road trip, breathe in salty air, and most things that have to do with water… and sharks. Lastly, I will say that little brings me more joy than sharing adventure and the ocean environment with my kids!
GM: You’re a mom as well as an adventurer. What advice would you give your kids about following in your footsteps, or not?
MHG: I would say go for it—all of it! Not to say that I haven’t really, really stressed my poor mom out with all of my adventures. However, my husband, Silas, and I really value following your dreams and living life to the fullest—and we figure that the best way to instill that in our kids is to lead by example.
GM: What advice would they give you?
MHG: My kids would probably tell me to slow down a bit—and to play and laugh more! Life can get awfully busy, and who better to remind you to play than kids!
GM: What’s been your scariest moment on Snake Island?
MHG: Whew! There were a lot of hair-raising moments out there… but the days when the sun wasn’t out the snakes were literally everywhere! On sunny days, you could anticipate where they were based on the time of day and whether they would be in direct sun warming up when it is cooler out, or in the shadows cooling off during the heat of the day. When the clouds came, it was incredibly snake-y!
GM: What life experiences prepared you for this adventure?
MHG: I would say that the sum of my adventures leading up to this one helped me keep my cool and work effectively with the team under extremely difficult conditions. Especially my competitive freediving though, where it is just you and the never-ending ocean. The ocean is so grand and powerful, it is humbling and demands respect—it has a way of reminding you how small you are. I think that all of these things are good reminders and can come in really handy when dealing with dangerous natural places and deadly snakes.
GM: Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd?
MHG: Absolutely a geek. Once I get going on the topic of sharks or the ocean environment… or anything I am passionate about, I enter geek-land!
GM: Your plan is to use the adventure, and possibly your share of the treasure, to support environmental awareness and marine conservation? How so?
MHG: Education and understanding are key to protecting anything on this planet. If I can shine some light on and raise awareness about the issues I am passionate about—like the health of the ocean—it’s what I can do to try to be part of the solution.
Many thanks to Mehgan for sharing her time with GeekMom, and to Discovery Channel for providing the sneak peeks below for Treasure Quest: Snake Island.
Snakes! Treasure! And Adventure! Treasure Quest: Snake Island premieres July 17, on Discovery Channel!