Alumni Spotlight - September 2023
Rachel Novak '10
By Becky Burkeen, Director of Alumni Relations
Academic, artistic, and athletic are just three words to describe the unique and inspirational Rachel Novak, class of 2010. Rachel was born and raised in Keno, Oregon, a small community outside of Klamath Falls, and attended Hosanna Christian School. As a child, she learned how to swim at the YMCA and always maintained an active lifestyle. Since she skipped the 4th and 7th grades, Rachel graduated high school at age 16. As an athlete in high school, Rachel’s track team practiced on the Oregon Tech track, where she met Coach Ken Coffman. Coach Coffman began recruiting Rachel during her junior year of high school, fueling her interest in attending Oregon Tech.
Rachel attended Oregon Tech as a student-athlete and a Biology/Pre-Med major from 2006-2010. She kept busy as a student employee for the Oregon Tech Foundation, as well as engaging in everything active that was available on campus. She was involved with the Ballroom Dancing Club, the Flow Club (a circus club she started), Team FLASH (an acrobatic club), and the Ultimate Frisbee Club. She was also the team captain of Cross-Country and Track teams. While honing her circus and acrobatic skills in college, she also began fire dancing. Rachel became very involved in her community during her college years as well and held the titles of Miss Klamath County in 2007 and Miss City of Sunshine in 2010.
After graduating from Oregon Tech in 2010, Rachel continued her studies at Oregon State University for another four years and earned her doctorate in Pharmacy. During that time, she continued her pageant work in the Miss America Scholarship program and held the title of Miss Linn-Benton in 2014 and ultimately made it into the top 10 finalists at the Miss Oregon competition for the three years that she competed at the state level. She also continued perfecting her circus skills. By day, Rachel attended pharmacy school classes and worked as an unpaid student-intern at various pharmacies. When she wasn’t interning, she performed in circus shows, which helped her earn an income, maintain a social life, and stay in shape. Wanting to add yet another skill set to her long list, Rachel became a professional mermaid. Additionally, she earned a scuba diving certification at the time, which inspired her to pursue a career in diving. Once she became a Divemaster, Rachel interned in Thailand, leading snorkeling tours and working as a dive guide. She quickly realized she could reach the same depths in one breath as she could with her scuba gear on, which led her to the world of freediving. In 2018, Rachel received formal training in the Philippines and became a professional freediving instructor.
By age 24, Rachel had earned two degrees and thought she had her dream partner and dream job. She met all the benchmarks she had set for herself, yet knew she wasn’t ready for the white picket fence, marriage, or starting a family. It was time to think outside the box and be the master of her own destiny. She was determined to enjoy a successful healthcare job while pursuing a career in the performing arts. An honest relationship with her employer about her commitment to her pharmacy work and determination to pursue work in the performance arts provided the support she needed to do it all.
Based in Nevada, Rachel currently has several concurrent jobs. She works as a relief pharmacist (licensed in both Washington and Nevada), as a fire dancer, as a stunt performer for films, and manages her freediving education, mermaid instruction, and mermaid entertainment business in Las Vegas. When asked how she juggles it all, Rachel explained, “I think it’s important to follow your passions and cultivate a life where you spend time doing work that excites and inspires you.” She added, “I value novelty, and it’s important for me to rotate between my passions to keep things fresh. It’s important for me to have that balance between academics, physical fitness, and creativity.”
During the pandemic, Rachel had to pause performing gigs, at which time she focused on her career as a pharmacist working at the front lines of the vaccine rollout. During that very challenging time in her profession, she was able to turn to freediving for her mental well-being. Since then, she has been able to return to her other passion projects and Rachel’s accomplishments are nothing short of inspiring. As part of the underwater stunt team, Rachel was recently nominated for a Screen Actor’s Guild award for her work on the film Wakanda Forever. She is also currently featured on two Netflix shows. The first is Merpeople, a four-part docuseries about the world of mermaids. Rachel appears as the reigning Miss Mermaid Nevada and Miss Sea Queen of Nevada. Her involvement in mermaid-specific pageants came through her desire to combine the artistic aspects of mermaiding with the athletic elements of freediving. Rachel also briefly appears in The Deepest Breath on Netflix, an in-depth look at the sport of freediving, where she works as a commentator during the freediving competition Vertical Blue 2021. For television reality competition fans, Rachel also had the honor of competing on Season 15 of American Ninja Warrior, a dream of Rachel’s from when she was a young child.
Rachel looks forward to growing her business, Aquanuts Freediving LLC, in Las Vegas. She just returned from Roatan, Honduras, where she competed as a member of the US National Team in the CMAS Freediving Depth World Championships. Her goal is to grow the reputation of freediving as a safe and enjoyable sport from which anyone can benefit. Yes, she can hold her breath for over five minutes and dive to 170 feet (52 meters), but more impressive is the fact that Rachel uses her platform and passion to educate others about freediving safety and stress management.
Rachel credits her parents for giving her a strong foundation, setting her up for success, and encouraging her to strive for excellence. Her advice for Oregon Tech students and alumni is to “Always remain curious and seek activities that allow you to grow. Step outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to fail.” She acknowledges how her involvement in the Miss Klamath County-Miss City of Sunshine scholarship pageants transformed her from an awkward teenager into a young woman with poise and confidence.
You can learn more about Rachel on her website www.aquanautsfreediving.com, on Instagram: @thesailingsiren and @aquanautsfreediving, on Linked-In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelnovakfreediver, and on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm13824459/bio/.