Local man becomes globe-trotter to swim with sharks – Citrus County Chronicle

Jean and Mark Van Sicklen hope their 29-year-old son Nick runs out of money soon.

That’s something neither of the Crystal River parents would have dreamed of saying when Nick graduated from the University of Florida six years ago with a degree in nuclear engineering. Nor did they think it when he got a job at a South Carolina power plant and set down roots, buying a house and pickup truck.

To Mark, who works at the Duke Energy’s Crystal River nuclear plant, and Jean, a stay-at-home mom, everything was as it should have been until about 1 1/2 years ago. By all accounts Nick had bought into the American dream …until he stopped.

Behind the scenes, the bright, young man who had graduated from Crystal River High School was quietly hatching a different plan: one involving swimming with sharks.

“They’re perfectly evolved,” he said of the creatures that first appeared in the planet’s waters about 450 million years ago. Modern sharks have existed for about 100 million years and changed little since.

“There’s a mystery to it,” he said when he described swimming with them. “It’s a complete satisfaction. I’m never more at peace than when I’m in the water with sharks.”

And this is where Jean and Mark Van Sicklen’s hope about Nick running out of money is rooted.

Nick loved learning about wildlife as a child. His parents bought him books on the subject and his mother drove him to the beaches around Jacksonville where young Nick scoured the sand for shark’s teeth.

It’s all things Jean Van Sicklen now admits she would take back if she could in hopes of nipping his fascination with sharks and travel.

Nick now has more than 800 followers on his Facebook page where he posts pictures from his shark swimming and travel exploits. Since the summer of 2017, he has traveled and swam in the waters of 15 countries and visited a total of 39 separate destinations. He is putting together a list of new destinations and will likely leave by the end of the month or early January.

Nick began traveling to swim with sharks during his vacations while he was still working for South Carolina Electric & Gas.

“It was a bucket list kind of thing and it ended up evolving,” he recalled. “Then I thought I could start living like this full time….It’s changed from a bucket list to a career.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with animals,” he said, but admits he took the safe route knowing he would have a job waiting for him in engineering.

Things got serious about his plans in 2015 when Nick visited the Philippines and earned his master scuba diver rating there. He also started thinking about how he could live this lifestyle permanently. He started putting money aside.

After five years in South Carolina, the company ended a project to build additional nuclear reactors on its campus and laid off workers. On July 31, 2017, one of those workers was Nick.

He said he could have gotten another job but “it was the perfect jumping point.”

Nick put the house he bought when he was just 22 on the market, sold his truck and put 10 boxes of odds and ends in his parents’ garage.

He got a job in San Francisco working for Great White Adventures. After three months of that he got a job with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions in Australia. The boat went out for days at a time. He got free room and board but worked for tips, he told the Chronicle this week from his parent’s home while visiting for the holidays.

“Beach bum,” his father shouted and smiled from his living room couch.

Mark Van Sicklen said it’s a tough pill to swallow thinking that his son gave up a career earning a comfortable living to work for tips.

When the shark season ended, Nick kept on traveling to continue swimming with sharks. But as the destinations became more isolated, he soon found there wasn’t work to pay for the trips.

That didn’t stop him and he instead took the money from his savings. He traveled and swam along the waters of New Zealand, the South Pacific Ocean Nation of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Guam, the Philippines, Bali in Indonesia, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia.

He has swum with several species of shark and thinks they can distinguish one human from another.        

Nick thinks he still has enough money saved for another year or two of travel.

“I’m counting it down,” his father yelled.

There are about 440 species of sharks. About 140 are endangered.

He texts his parents every day to let them know he is OK.

He also says that much of what people think they know about sharks is wrong and that they are intelligent, curious fish. Most attacks on humans are simply accidents, he said.

But his mother countered, “They’re still animals. They’re predators. They feed.”

The couple is also afraid because Nick travels alone, often in countries and areas with limited modern conveniences. His parents are afraid he will encounter dangerous people and become a victim.

“My neighbors follow him on Facebook. My friends follow him on Facebook. But it’s different when it’s your kid,” Jean said.

Nick said he understands their fears but thinks it’s misplaced. He thinks most places are safe and locals typically tell tourists what areas to visit and places to stay clear of.

“I understand that thought process,” Nick said of his parent’s concerns. “But there are enough people who give up on their dreams. I don’t want to be one of those people.”

His hope is to start his own shark charter business and still travel to new places to swim with sharks. He wants to educate people about sharks so they will not fear them. Too many are being hunted for sport and food with few people to protect them, he said.

The experience of swimming with sharks has changed the way he sees the animals, but also the way he looks at life.

So during the season as most prepare for the holidays, Nick is preparing to travel again.

“For the most part I have an outline,” he said.

At the end of the month or early January, he will start a new diving job in Mexico. From there he will go to the Bahamas, South Africa, the Maldives Islands, and the Read Sea for starters.

“I heard diving in the Red Sea is amazing.” Nick said.

He said he understands that most parents want their children to follow a traditional lifestyle.

“But that’s not the path I want to go,” he said.

He wants more people to be unafraid of doing the things they’ve postponed or been afraid to do.

“In the last year I’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Nick said.  

“You have more options than you think,” he said. “People are afraid of change.”

Don’t be, he said.

Source: Google News :

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