SAFETY DOC PODCAST #113 | Spelunker Atham Aldecua on Psyche, Soma & STEM [Podcast]

[Podcast] Atham Aldecua’s safety advice is to assume that you are always alone and that anyone else that can help you during a crisis is a bonus. Trust gut instincts and rely upon yourself to make decisions and find options within chaos. A caver, climber, hiker, and snowboarder, Atham’s forded the divide from self-similarity to chaos and skillfully navigates both physical and psychological terrain that would overwhelm most people. It’s a value-added mindset and Atham imparts pragmatic wisdom during this interview.

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Perpetually honing his situational awareness, Atham shared that while living in Mexico, Taiwan and the United States; he watched the natives, studied their behaviors and attempted to predict what they would do next. He advises people to seek similarities across situations as they are more prevalent than differences and enable you to quickly pick up predictable patterns.


After deciding computer programming wasn’t his jam, an 18 year old Atham gained crucial work experience as a call center representative, restaurant assistant manager, window washer and hotel night audit. He smiled when sharing a time at the call center when he asked the caller to close his windows. The man rushed around his house closing his windows instead of closing the windows on his computer. Although hectic, the call center was relevant training for learning to successfully interface with people who were overwhelmed. Another story was when several people checked into a hotel at night after being delayed by a winter storm. The only person at the desk, Atham maintained his smile and got everyone situated for the night. He often states, “It doesn’t help to feel sorry for yourself or ask, ‘why me?’ – just do what needs to be done.”


“You know what needs to be done, so do it!” Atham attributes his success to a combination of family and friends, saying “yes” to new opportunities, and embracing hard work – which for him is a combination of 80 hour work weeks, a full-time course load in chemical engineering and exploring caves.


With guidance from a trainer, Atham has shed 40 pounds since spring, enabling him to hike with ease and be more efficient with caving. He added that he weighs all of his food portions and that 40 grams of sugar in a soda is eye-opening when 40 grams of sugar is scooped onto a scale.


Atham explained that spelunking is associated with novice cave explorers and that traditional and more serious enthusiasts refer to themselves as cavers. Caving for 3 years, Atham became interested in the hobby after watching a YouTube video. He went to and found a local chapter of the National Speleological Society. He is now vice-chairman of his caving club and also trained in basic cave rescue.


Always have 3 sources of light. Atham stated that novice explorers over-estimate their capabilities and have poor situational awareness. These folks use their cell phone light to wander through a cave, experience hypothermia or become disoriented. Another rule is to never explore a cave on your own. The third rule is to avoid running in caves as the terrain is damp, inconsistent and unforgiving. While GPS doesn’t function in a cave, Atham shared that, curiously, he’s had intermittent cell phone reception.


A member of his climbing team skipped safety protocol and unfastened a rope which resulted in Atham falling 16 feet and dislocating his elbow. Rather than becoming angry or emotional, Atham maintained his composure and was able to direct others to facilitate his rescue. His ability to find control in chaos comes from a mindset of not becoming occupied with emotions. Per Atham, “Assume no malice when people are giving you a hard time. Or should I say… pretend like you are assuming no malice even though you are seeing it. This makes them look bad in public if they keep pushing it. It’s a technique that has worked for me a lot of times.”


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