A young boy frustratingly stops to gasp for air during a difficult swimming lesson. Although his instructor's encouraging pleas to submerge underwater echo throughout the facility, the boy objects. With his mother watching the exchange nearby, she asks her son why he won't go underwater.
"Because, Mom, if I put my head underwater, I won't be able to breathe!" said the boy.
Finally mustering enough courage to take the plunge, the boy soon learned how to not only effectively swim but gained the confidence and skills over nearly two decades to become a certified divemaster, along with a host of other accomplishments. Although Ryan Miranda’s lifetime water expeditions — ranging from diving to lecturing maritime archaeology — hold a unique place in his heart, it's team-oriented water sports that ultimately fuel his passion.
Missing the camaraderie-filled, victorious moments he cherished with his teammates in rowing competitions, he decided to strive toward another lap of success. This time, he joined a new, much larger team – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District. Alongside 1,100 professionals fulfilling multifaceted career specialties and missions, Miranda's "new splash" as a survey technician helps deliver vital engineering solutions to strengthen the Nation, energize the economy and reduce disaster risks in the National Capital and mid-Atlantic regions.
"I have spent most of my life around or on water and have cherished every moment," said Miranda, a Farmington, Connecticut, native. "The daily life of a survey technician is similarly exciting because it varies from day to day; you don't see the same thing twice. As a travel crew member of the Survey Section, my team and I complete surveys and special projects all over the Baltimore District, ranging from conducting hydrographic condition surveys on the Eastern Shore, assisting the Washington Aqueduct to determine the reservoir volume with a remote-controlled boat, and using topographic survey methods to measure the depth of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal."
"While it can be exhausting at times, the multitude of projects has allowed me to travel all over the region and learn a lot about different survey techniques and procedures," Miranda added.
No pain, no gain
Miranda is all too familiar with enduring fatigue and constantly discovering new practices. As a rower in high school and college, he gritted through the standard 2,000-meter race, which produces more lactic acid in the human body than any other sporting activity in the world. Miranda attributes getting through that agonizing pain by staying dedicated to hard work and being the best teammate possible. Although the competitive stakes and physical tolls aren't as high, he still employs that razor-thin focus for his current job.
"I hope to learn as much as I can about surveying, so I can be as much of an asset to the team as possible," Miranda said. "I would like to become more knowledgeable about translating our survey post-processes to see how our collected data is put into deliverables that the Corps and the public use. The Corps prepares me to do that by providing great mentors and teachers in the Baltimore Survey Section, and I look forward to continuing to work with them and learn more every day."
Newly onboarded in January 2021, the USACE Baltimore Survey team jokingly mentioned they pursued Miranda due to his success as a rower. However, his extensive experience and knowledge of Chesapeake Bay protection and restoration stood out the most.
"The Port of Baltimore is a $5 billion annual industry," said Randy Coats, USACE Baltimore survey technician.
"Sometimes, ships the size of small cities navigate the port, which is the most inland port in the country, and if that gets stuck in the middle of the Harbor due to improper [hydrographic and topographic] surveying, you're talking millions of dollars in lost revenue from boat damage and late deliveries – it all cascades. We're the behind-the-scenes technicians that keep the Inner Harbor functioning, and Ryan is a key contributor in making sure these assets are safeguarded."
Full Circle Dedication
It's no easy feat ensuring Baltimore's Chesapeake Bay channels are safely navigable for post-Panamax ships to remain a premiere, lucrative staple for the Charm City and Nation. Hydrographic surveying, or waterway mapping, scans beneath the surface to study physical features and depths and identify potential hazards to help inform where dredging needs to occur to ensure safe seafaring and economic development. The Baltimore Harbor navigation project is just one critical project that surveyors like Miranda support.
Miranda's path hasn't always been mapped out, taking the scenic route filled with glamorous bumps and bruises. However, he's managed to adapt to any environment like water and make the best possible outcome. The skies, or waterways, are the limit for this unique questor on his newest expedition. Although he states he's comfortable with being uncomfortable, he feels right at home with Baltimore District.
More than two decades ago, the little boy who refused to put his head underwater would have never envisioned becoming a USACE survey technician, maritime archaeology lecturer, rowing club coach or swimming blindly for survival during a blackout dive obstacle course. However, his unwavering perseverance can inspire others never to falter amid adversity, no matter how long the first lap takes.