by Heather Swan
This time last year, I was afraid, make that VERY afraid.
We were two days away from attempting the first wingsuit crossing of The Grand Canyon from rim to rim. We were exiting the jump plane at close to 30,000ft, the temperature was -50 Celsius, we were breathing supplemental oxygen, we were flying high performance pressurised wingsuits and we needed to fly over 10kms to cross the canyon safely. Then, to me at least, the landing area was the equivalent of a handkerchief dropped in a wilderness of trees and cactus. Not somewhere to land a skydiving canopy.
There was a lot to be afraid of, and I am not brave. I am not of the 'yahoo let's go', brimming with optimism bias that is more common among skydivers and adventurers. I am far from radical and so outside the stereotype, that I just don't fit. Less imaginative (or maybe brave) publishers and potential sponsors tell me all the time, "You don't fit, you're not radical enough for the 'two-minute-noodle-crowd' and you're way too radical for the mainstream.' It's frustrating because I think there are lots of people who would love adventure if they knew where to start, and were inspired to have a go, regardless of age or the 'rad factor'.
Stereotyping ourselves or other people is a time saving brain bug, sometimes useful, mostly not. "I could never do a skydive," is something I hear all the time from women my age, even much younger women. Of course they could, but they can't see themselves doing 'something so scary' and even the idea of the drop zone environment is frightening to them. Going on a bush walk, to a gym or even into a bike shop can evoke the same 'not my place, not my people' fear. There is some validity in this. I've gone into bike shops staffed exclusively by young guys, and been ignored or patronised - stereotyped incorrectly. Their loss, I take my not insignificant bike buying power elsewhere. Still it can be dispiriting, for a second.
Not being brave, not being young, or radical or feeling that you wont fit in, need not stop you trying something outside your comfort zone. I have learned this from experience and I push myself to keep learning it.
In mountaineering and basejumping expeditions to Pakistan, Nepal, New Zealand and India and in ground-breaking wingsuit flights across the remote Australian outback, Sydney Harbour, Brisbane city and The Grand Canyon, I've managed to keep the 'what am I doing here?' fear under control. So far I haven't given in to the voice that on every occasion has told me to quit, to run away. With Glenn's ongoing support and as long as I know I've done the training and I know what I'm doing, and with the added knowledge that I've dealt successfully with many nasty emergencies, I can go ahead.
Adventure is good for the soul. Being in nature and pushing beyond the everyday comfort zone can be uncomfortable (at times mighty uncomfortable) but the rewards are huge.
One of those rewards is the motivation to be fit and healthy. Glenn and I are in our fifties, but we are fit and we are strong. We have to be to fly the big wingsuits well (and safely). We run 6 to 8kms in nature pretty much every day, we ride (mountain bikes and road bikes), we kayak, we climb and we do strength training daily. It makes a huge difference, both physically and emotionally. We're 100 percent committed to our training and when there is commitment, its not hard to find the motivation or make the time.
This month, with our full Grand Canyon team back together, we're flying over Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia and nearby Lake Eyre. These are both spectacular natural icons and it will be amazing to experience them as a bird does. As the saying goes, 'If you want to experience the element, get out of the vehicle', but it would not be possible if I wasn't willing to also get out of my comfort zone.
If you want to really experience life, outside the neat boxes society wants to put us in, push yourself, set goals, be inquisitive, (try to) be impervious to nay sayers and your own doubt. Trust yourself and your true friends - the people big enough to say, 'good for you, have a go, I'll be there for you'.