A skydiving tandem has been an old and dear dream of mine, and years ago I was even considering getting a license of my own one day. But then life happened, and I became friends with fear, anxiety and panic attacks. The thought of exiting a plane and diving into a free fall terrified me, but the dream was still there. So I went out today and made it happen. But it wasn’t an easy journey…
The Dream Of Flying Like A Bird
Rewind the story to about seven or eight years ago, and you would see my eyes lit up whenever I saw videos of people skydiving, and even BASE jumping. Jeeeze, I wished I could do that! And I actually looked into it – where would be the closest place to do my first tandem, what it takes to skydive on your own… and how many jumps you need to start jumping off bridges and cliffs.
I loved heights, I loved speed, and I was daydreaming of only one superpower – the ability to fly. And if I could ever become an animal, it’d be an eagle. We all know it’s impossible, but there are people out there flying. Why couldn’t I be one of them?
The first taste of how exhilarating this could potentially be I got from a tandem paragliding adventure back in Latvia. I got it as a present from my brother five years ago, and couldn’t wait to go flying.
One must know though, paragliding in Latvia is nothing like paragliding in the Alps… The pilot and the passenger are hitched to a cable, and then a car, equipped with a special winch, tows the tandem up in the air to about 450 meters above the ground. The pilot then disconnects the cable and you hover in a free flight above the ground for about five to ten minutes, depending on the weather conditions.
Yes it was baby-paragliding, but for me, it didn’t matter – I was super stoked and excited about my experience nevertheless. I wanted more!
No Fear, Really?
As life would have it, somewhere down the line I went through some sh*t. We all do, I know. And my story definitely isn’t the roughest one, not even close. But my brain doesn’t know the difference. It is wired in a way that wears off the ability to tell real threats apart from the imagined ones, and, damn, I have a lot of the latter.
With each stress, panic, and burnout, my brain gets used to the chemical reactions more and more. It thinks it needs to react that way every time I’m facing a challenge or a stressful situation. And with time, almost EVERYTHING becomes a challenge and a stressful situation for my brain.
Oh, you have a job interview, Laura? Let’s get that fight or flight reaction system working. Preparing for a big presentation? Panic, my dear! Yes, I know, it’s all in my head, but it’s not that easy to control it. In that same head, I have perfectly sane thoughts of how I should be reacting to things and handling them, but it won’t work. IT. JUST. WON’T. WORK.
Now, looking at my ‘no fear’ tattoo on my left hand, I have to laugh. I got it years ago as a reminder to let the fear go and enjoy the moment. Little did I know I’ll end up being an utter screw-up that can’t handle as much as that.
Let’s Jump Out Of A Plane!..?
Since I moved to Switzerland, skydiving kind of became a part of my life. For starters, my boyfriend Luke is a skydiver, and I’ve been out to the drop zone with him quite a few times. I didn’t mind him jumping (even though some stories I heard were frightening), but I knew that bringing myself to something like this would also mean overcoming fear.
The first time I realized that skydiving might be a bit problematic for me was on a day out at First, Grindelwald. We finally wanted to try out the attractions – zip line First Flyer, mountain carts, and trottibike scooters. I was super excited about such a fun day out, but I had no clue that the first one will leave me seconds away from a full blown panic attack…
And so it turns out – wind gushing into my face at high speeds and me having no control over it is a problem. A mental one, for that matter, but still a problem. I love heights, I love speed, but when I can’t control the process, panic is more than happy to show up uninvited and so unexpected. I was gutted because this meant that I might not be able to paraglide or skydive.
Working With Fear
Thankfully, that never stopped me… A few months after the ‘fiasco’ at zip-lining, I had the amazing opportunity to try out a paragliding tandem, this time – the real deal in the Swiss Alps. A friend of ours was working up to his tandem license and needed ‘crash test dummies’ to fly around.
The first takeoff and flight itself were amazing, but when it came to doing swift turns and twirls in the air, the same thing happened – I felt like I can’t breathe as soon as the strong winds started smashing into my face. I had to close my eyes to get through it and not panic.
Amazingly, I had other two attempts to work with my fear. The second time around, I took a deep breath in right before the twirls and exhaled all the way through. No panic! I was actually breathing and enjoying it. Third time – I was inhaling and exhaling during all the speedy turns, and loving every second of it.
I worked with my fear and outplayed my brain. How about that? On top of that, I’m actually considering getting a paragliding license next summer…
Dreams Need To Be Lived
Now working for a skydiving company, it would be just natural for me to do a tandem skydive, right? The thought was still terrifying, but I could feel it backing off every time I was editing videos and seeing it in process. Maybe, just maybe, I am able to face my fear and fulfill this dream of mine?
The day came rather sooner than later – just about two weeks in and I got a green light to jump on a plane… and out of it eventually. The weather was gorgeous – not a single cloud in the blue sky and a scorching hot day ahead. All I had to do was to show up at the drop zone.
I was lucky enough to pick my tandem master. Seeing all of them into action on a daily basis, I knew I had to go for Tom. He was always so hyper-active but grounded at the same time, I knew he would do a great job to help mentally prepare for the jump. And so he did, giving me several tips on how to cope with the panic should it appear again.
If I feel like I cannot breathe, he said, I should just scream to get the air out of my lungs and be able to inhale again. Plus, breathe through your nose. Ha, who would have thought? Seems simple enough and I should be able to handle it. Now the most terrifying part seemed the exit…
As you can see from the photos, the exit was quite an enjoyable experience. Hanging over the edge did not terrify me one bit, plus, my boyfriend was right there on the outside of the plane ready to jump with us. And off we went into a backflip followed by a barrel roll (yes, I got the full arsenal of tricks).
Yet again, I was gulping for air. Or was I?
Damn, how beautiful it looks!
But, hey – why can’t I scream?!
Aaaw, look at those beautiful snowy peaks… so amazing!
How long is this roller-coaster going to take?!
I wanted to scream so desperately. Not because I needed to, but because I was told to do so to escape the panic. Now when I think of it, I could actually breathe very well through my mouth, but not a single sound came out.
After what seemed like an hour of free-falling (48 seconds in reality), we finally stabilized and Tom pulled the chute. Whooohooo! I can scream again, and scream I did.
Words can’t possibly express how amazing it felt, how happy I was all of a sudden. All of the worries, the stress, and butterflies in my tummy were gone with the wind.
And the rest is history, I guess… Or you can watch the video below for the full eperience.
P.S. Big thanks go out to the team at Skydive Switzerland – Tom, Elliott, Luke, Corina, and Sancho. Definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. LOVED IT! And can’t wait to get out there again.
But, most importantly, I am so damn proud of myself. Yas!