Archives for November 2012

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

In August 1960 Joe Kittinger leapt from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800ft. You might have thought that the retired Airforce Colonel, now an octogenarian, would be keen to keep his place in history but not a bit of it. After two other men had recently died in attempts to leap even further he formed a crucial part of a team to help Austrian stuntsman Felix Baumgartner smash the record.

There would be untold dangers. With air pressure 2% of that at sea level, the only thing preventing blood from boiling would be a pressure suit. Then there was hitting the stratosphere. The initial freefall should be smooth but air turbulence could cause spinning and loss of consciousness. Also, what would happen to the human body when it went supersonic without being in a vehicle?

On Sunday night we were able to watch on television as Baumgartner ascended in his balloon capsule.  When the capsule door was opened onto a breathtaking view of the curvature of the planet Baumgartner seemed to hesitate before shuffling forward into position where he could move onto the outer step. Then, with nothing between him and the 24 miles down to theNew Mexicodesert, he jumped.

As he plummeted downwards, the cameras scanned the worried expressions on the faces of his team as Baumgartner began to spin. After too many heart-stopping moments, he was finally able to stabilise himself but he pulled the parachute open slightly ahead of schedule, killing his chance of breaking the record for the longest free fall.

The rest seemed comparatively easy and he stepped onto the desert floor nine minutes three seconds after he’d made that extraordinary leap of faith into space. Baumgartner had not only survived but also gone faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h) and smashing the record for the highest ever freefall.

In the interview afterwards, Baumgartner was surprisingly calm. “Let me tell you – when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don’t think about breaking records anymore, you don’t think about gaining scientific data – the only thing that you want is to come back alive.”

All this puts my own meagre parachute achievement of a few weeks ago into something of a cocked hat but I will never forget the feeling of dangling out of a plane with nothing but 13,000 feet of air beneath my feet. The blinding clarity of being utterly in the present moment with no past or future to dull the edges is indescribable along with the absolute, terrifying trust that has to be mustered in order to jump at all. Unlike Baumgartner I’m no hero but I did face my fear, do it anyway and have a hearty good laugh at myself and I’m delighted to say that I’m a stronger person for it. 

It’s strange how climbing out of our comfort zones can help us discover how amazing we really are. Only very rare people like Baumgartner manage to smash records but, in the moment of exceptional achievement, the competitiveness in all of us always falls away leaving a simple desire to be and to stay alive on what is an extraordinary planet.

So face your fears and laugh. You might not break any records but you might discover a strength you never knew you had. Enjoy!

Love Laurelle