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Victoria woman overcomes adversity to find 'happy place' under the sea

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VICTORIA -

Ever since she was a little girl, Kristin Piche dreamed of diving underwater and being a marine biologist.

“I was a very nerdy kid,” Kristin says. Her childhood bedroom was decorated with posters of dolphins and whales. “Just obsessed with the ocean.”

Kristin also grew up with increasingly severe hearing loss.

“By the time I was three, I had the strongest hearing aids that were available,” Kristin says. “And they weren’t really working.”

So, when Kristin was three and a half years old, she endured surgery for a cochlear implant.

“The only thing I remember [about the experience] is getting an orange popsicle at the hospital,” Kristin laughs.

But she will never forget how — although the implant transformed the way she could communicate — the cumbersome contraption connected to it made her a target for bullies.

“Kids can be cruel,” Kristin says. “So that was a challenge.”

But Kristin could always find comfort in dreaming of connecting with sea creatures one day, until that was dashed as a teenager, when she learned that underwater pressure on the implant would make scuba diving impossible.

“It was very, very sad.” Kristin recalls crying after receiving the news.

Kristin says it was so devastating that she gave up on pursuing science as a career and took a few years after school to surf and travel instead.

Until one day, during her travels, she heard the news that cochlear implants had been approved for diving. Kristin was thrilled.

“I got certified [to dive] that same year!” Kristin laughs.

And you can see from the photo on her diving certificate what having a once-dashed dream come true feels like.

“My grin is just massive,” Kristin laughs.

It’s an enduring smile that Kristin now covers with a mask to dive regularly.

Although she isn’t working as a marine biologist, she is spending countless hours photographing the locals. Kristin has captured pictures and video of her swimming with fish, dolphins, seals and octopi.

“It’s bliss,” Kristin smiles.

It’s where a girl who was once bullied has grown up to have the sort of friends who recently surprised her by presenting her with a "birthday cake" underwater.

It was made from a beer can wrapped in a pink children’s arm floaty, and topped with multi-coloured glow-stick candles.

“I was so emotional.” Kristin recalls shedding happy tears in her diving mask. “I can’t believe they did all this.”

And they staged it all in her happy place.

“Diving is something that’s as always going to bring me joy,” Kristin smiles.

Because when you’re under the sea, how you hear is inconsequential, and how being emboldened by your accomplishments and empowered by the beauty of your surroundings, is everything.

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