The Thai cave rescue, where 12 young football players and their coach were rescued, was one of the biggest stories of 2018, and one of the divers involved, Jim Warny, said that breaking down the task into small manageable goals was crucial to its success.

With over 4km of the cave to navigate, doing this was a necessity. 

"It was a daunting task for me but as I progressed, I made small goals," he explained. 

Thai cave rescue: How it unfolded

"Get to this flooded section and then I would swim on the surface for another hundred meters and then I would meet Eric, one of the support divers, and when I get to Eric I get to hand off for five minutes, I get to take a breather and then I continue on."

"You set these small goals, it's part of the visualisation process, you have your big goals but when you're visualising it, you say what stage do I need to reach. Stage one is 100 metres, stage two is 200 metres, stage three is 300 metres and then you reach those small goals and you break it down and you keep going."

"That's the only way to do it".

Visualisation plays a major role in Warny's life as a cave diver. Part of what helps Warny - who is from Belgium but lives in Ennis, Co Clare - is that he's been doing this for so long, much of the process comes naturally to him.

"Because I've been doing it for so long, I do it so consciously," he said. "When I do an electrical job at work, I take the screwdrivers I need and the supplies I need. It's a natural thing for a human being to do and I suppose what makes you successful in a stressful situation or at work is being able to visualise.

Just focus on the core things and everything that could work against you in your mind. Just factor that out and go for it".

The Thai cave rescue didn't allow him much time to visualise his route: he was told about it on the Friday night, and then began the dive on Sunday morning. The experience will hold him to good stead and incorporating the lessons learnt from each dive is an important step.

"From every experience, even a good situation or dangerous situation, you come back and analyse it and incorporate it into your next project," said Warny. 

"A lot of the dangers I would encounter, I would have visualised it weeks before a major dive."

Interestingly, when Warny started cave diving, he didn't receive any formal training. Instead, he and other divers were mentored by more experienced members of the community. From there, he and other divers would mentor new member and improve upon their predecessors, be it incorporating a new piece of equipment or going further into a cave system.

Taking this approach has its benefits, he said.

"Because I received that training through mentoring, I didn't receive any formal training, it gave me a solid base for me to become a mentor not just for other people but for myself as well," said Warny.

"It's when your father teaches you to drive instead of an instructor. An instructor is going to be there and make you pass the exam whereas your father will look after you and make sure you survive on the road."

- Words by Quinton O'Reilly, video interview by Sínann Fetherston

We spoke with Jim Warny at the Pendulum Summit which is running in Dublin's Convention Centre on January 9th & 10th 2019.