Quite often life sends wake-up calls, disguised or not, in marked watershed moments. They smack you into immediate reality and your focus becomes real clear. Not so often, brilliance dips into and out of the world in the form of an extraordinary human being who enters and leaves us as a brilliant comet. Such was the case this month when I learned of the death of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, marine biologist and friend Mike deGruy.

My husband and I went to college with Mike when he was a teammate and national diving champion at NC State University. A more fearless man I have never met – and thus an example and lesson to me of his life and his passing. Mike’s career and his life were sterling and extraordinary by any standard. A FEW highlights:

Filmed the wreck of the Titanic with director James Cameron
Emmy Award and British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award
First to film a mega-mouth shark
Survived a near-fatal shark attack, losing part of his right arm.
Dove beneath BOTH polar ice caps
Piloted hang gliders
A trained pilot of deepwater submarines
Explored a sunken Soviet spy submarine marooned since the collapse of the Soviet Union
More than two dozen documentaries including “The Blue Planet: Seas of Life”
Documentaries for Discovery Channel, the BBC, National Geographic
A documentary that greatly saddened and frustrated him: the BP oil spill in his hometown of Mobile, AL

Champion of all things ‘marine biology,’ I was convinced he was part fish when I knew him in college. My opinion never changed. If you are a fan of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, you will have seen Mike as one of the Channel’s most popular presenters. In 1978 Mike was the survivor of a near-fatal shark attack that claimed part of his right arm. He sent us meticulous photographs of his skin grafts, certainly not for the faint of heart.

Mike died February 4 at the age of 60 in a helicopter crash 80-miles south of Sydney, Australia. He and the pilot, Andrew Wight, a specialist in nature documentaries and cave diving, were headed out to shoot aerial footage of a ship used in a documentary they were doing with James Cameron. Here’s how Cameron described Mike and Andrew:

“They were true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human being has been. They died doing exactly what they loved most, heading out to sea on a new and personally challenging expedition, having fun in the way they defined it for themselves, which was hardship and toil to achieve something never done before. They were passionate story tellers who lived by the explorer’s code of humor, empathy, optimism, and courage. Their deaths were a tremendous loss for the world of underwater exploration, conservation, and filmmaking.”

When I consider how most of us live life, and how much fear seeps into our every day decisions, I’ll always think of Mike deGruy. Granted, he had the reputation of a daredevil. I’ve never known a diver who didn’t. It takes more than courage to climb back into the water after 11 operations to restore your right arm and become an reknown expert at filming sharks.

According to his brother Frank, around the age of 11 or 12 “he was a chicken. He was scared to try stuff. The next summer, he just said, ‘I’m never going to be scared of trying a new dive again.’ He just started trying everything. He just decided he wouldn’t be scared anymore. He wasn’t going to let fear hold him back. From that point on, he never showed fear again.”

And look what that approach to life brought forth and through Mike deGruy to the rest of the world.

Frank went on to say, “So here’s this guy, curious and friendly and smart, and now he doesn’t have a normal amount of fear anymore. Next thing we know, he’s in the Pacific Ocean diving with sharks. He started having these incredible adventures. We were scared for him, but you can’t hold a guy like that back. He didn’t take crazy chances, he weighed the risks. We were living for his stories. He probably did 50 things that I wish I could have done. Most people I know feel that way.

I’ve conducted numerous workshop and talks on the subject of fear and uncertainty. They are the enemies of your life’s force and purpose. Max Lucado, author of Fearless, is very poignant when discussing the subject:

When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life. Fear feels dreadful. It sucks the life out of the soul. Curls us into an embryonic state, and drains us dry of contentment. We become abandoned barns, rickety and tilting from the winds, a place where humanity used to eat, thrive and find warmth.

When your life is over, how would you most like to be remembered? A glimpse of Mike’s website http://mikedegruy.com/ and comments made at a huge tribute held February 13, 2012, and attended by over 1000 people in Santa Barbara, come close to aptly describing him:

larger than life * the best underwater cinematographer * globe-trotting adventurer * greatest joy was the Abyss * exuberance and generosity * packed six lives into that one * married to amazement * a human explanation point!

As you move about in this world making the smallest of choices and decisions, don’t allow fear to be in the driver’s seat. As Lucado says, “There is a rawness and a wonder to life. Pursue it. Hunt for it. Sell out to get it. Don’t listen to the whines of those who have settled for a second-rate life and want you to do the same so they won’t feel guilty. Your goal is not to live long; it’s to live.”

It’s better to burn out like a brilliant comet than to rust out like an unused pipe. Well done, Mike deGruy. You are the epitome of NC State University’s RED LEGEND PRIDE. Thank you!

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~

Copyright © 2012 The C3 Connection. All rights reserved.

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