By Drew Limsky
Portrait by George Kamper
By day, she’s a highly credentialed mechanical engineer for IBM; in her off-time, she’s underwater, spearfishing and free diving. And she’s no dilettante. Sheri Daye has logged dives of 250 feet on scuba and won a national title for free-dive spearfishing in 2006. She is currently president of the International Underwater Spearfishing Association and is enough of an expert to have hosted the Outdoor Channel’s “Speargun Hunter” for six years.
“I never would have thought in my wildest imagination that I would be hosting a TV show,” she says with some bemusement. “It was my hobby, something I did for fun. And I slowly evolved to the point where I was asked to do it for six years, and I was able to do that on weekends and vacation days. I get five weeks of vacation days from IBM. It enabled me to travel to a lot of different places and meet a lot of different people. In a way it was like paid vacation.”
A few years ago, while spearfishing in Hawaii with her good friend Daryl Wong, Daye says she had the catch of her life. They both saw a 19-pound uku about 90 feet deep, and Daye wasn’t sure if they would have a chance to catch it. She slowly glided toward the fish, careful not to scare it away. “As I approached, he became wary,” Daye remembers. “When I felt I was in range, I took aim and fired a solid, good-holding shot. As I ascended, Daryl was already giving me the thumbs-up sign.” Turns out that catch was a women’s world record.
“That fish may be the deepest-depth/longest-shot combination that I’ve ever done,” she says. “The feeling that I had is what keeps us all coming back—the quest for the perfect dive on the perfect fish. I imagine that’s what it feels like to make a half-court basketball shot or a golfing hole-in-one. It might look easy, but it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and practice along with some good luck thrown in.”
Daye is quick to note that adventurousness was not part of her upbringing, even though she spent her early years in Honduras. “I grew up in a fearful household,” the Boca Raton resident recalls. “My parents are very cautious with everything they do in life. That’s now how I ended up—I was rebelling against that. I wasn’t going to be pigeonholed about what young ladies should be doing, or that something was too scary. I think driving on I-95 is more dangerous than free diving. There are some risks to it, but you do what you can to minimize them.” Her parents have come around and trust that she will come up intact. Now, instead of worry, Daye hears, “Honey, I’m running low on fish!” so Daye comes home with a grouper.
Family is a huge part of Daye’s life, and not surprisingly, it intersects with her aqueous passions. She started Blue Wild Ocean Adventures Expo to raise money for Twin Palms Center for the Disabled, her brother’s school; Daye’s 55-year-old brother, Terry, who lives with her on weekends, is developmentally disabled.
“Adults with developmental disabilities are the forgotten segment of society,” she says. “When they’re kids, they still can go to school and have a sense of purpose, but as soon as they graduate high school, there is nothing and nowhere for them to go, unless you have a place like Twin Palms.”
The annual Blue Wild fair, with speakers and art exhibitions—Carey Chen, Randall Scott, Don Ray and Wesley Carter are among the artists—has become something greater. Daye incorporated the organization: “Now I run it like a business,” she says. “I have employees during the event, and I still give a portion to charity.” This year, nearly 5,000 attendees filled the Broward County Convention Center.
As if Daye hasn’t had enough on her plate, she holds several patents—she’s even a co-author of a patent for a free diver recovery vest, a safety device that will help a diver if he or she has blacked out. “If it senses they have not surfaced, and it will automatically make them float to the surface,” she explains.
Daye is quick to acknowledge that the lure of the ocean has dictated her life’s path and why: “It clears your mind and there’s something so therapeutic to it,” she says. “All my friends who get into the sport feel the same way—it’s very cleansing. Water is such an addictive feeling because it just takes you away from everything—you live in the moment and are a part of nature.”
Originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.