Victoria and Rebecca Bradley - Skydivers
We are at 5000 feet and Victoria and Rebecca Bradley are sitting by the open back doors of a small aeroplane. As they prepare to jump, a discussion begins. I can’t hear what’s being said over the rushing of air through the plane, but plans have changed. We’re in thick cloud and the conditions for jumping aren’t good. We climb sharply into clearer air at 13,000 feet, and in a matter of seconds with a grin and a fist bump, they move towards the doors and are gone. I’m alone with the pilot, who aims for home at a plummeting pace. He tells me I won’t see the skydivers, they have already dropped 2.5 miles back to solid ground.
Victoria and Rebecca are twin sisters who discovered skydiving after visiting a wind tunnel for a friend’s hen party. It was so much fun they decided right then that they were going to learn to skydive, and within a month were jumping out of planes over the skies in Oxfordshire. That was ten years ago, and since then they have gone on to represent the GB women’s team, as well as becoming coaches and Accelerated Free Fall and Tandem Instructors.
Rebecca explains that “Essentially, skydiving is going up in a plane and jumping out, using your parachute to land safely. There are lots of different disciplines, for us it’s really about the freefall. We only have about a minute of freefall. When you first start jumping that minute goes very quickly, but after a while it feels like quite a long time. You’re so completely absorbed in it, there’s no space for worrying about anything apart from what you’re doing then and there.”
“I think we knew from the very first skydives that we wanted to be instructors, and we wanted to represent GB. As soon as we got our FS1 qualification (which allows you to jump with other people) we were picked up by the world champion on the women’s team. She asked if we fancied doing a rookie team, and we got silver at the nationals…” Victoria elaborates, “Once you medal that’s it! It’s like an addiction, you’ve just got to keep getting medals!”
It changed their lives completely, as Rebecca explains, “Prior to skydiving we were very career oriented. We did do fun stuff - we learned to sail, we rode motorbikes, we surfed very badly. But nothing comes close to jumping out of a plane. We still work really hard, and we still want to earn more, because we spend it doing this. Victoria agrees, “There’s a purpose to it now. It’s still a balancing act, but now we have our own business consultancy we’re in a position that we can be a bit more flexible with our time, we’re very lucky.”
“We’ve represented GB women’s team in four way flying, where there are four of us and they give us five or six formations to build as quickly as we can in 35 seconds. Our camera flyer jumps out with us and hovers over the top, when we land he downloads it for the judges. When you look at it after the competition, and you’ve got this shiny thing on a ribbon, you think ‘that cost me so much!’ but it’s not about that in the end, it’s about the journey to getting there.”
“We do still compete, but for us the satisfaction really is bringing new people on, coaching them and improving their skills. We try and encourage ladies to compete because it gives a bit more of a focus, a reason to keep coming back. We put teams together and they don’t even compete, they just jump together as four people.”
“The skydiving scene is so friendly, there’s no hierarchy, you mix with people of all abilities. In this sport you have access to some of the best people in the world, and they’re no different to anyone else. You could go to any dropzone and say ‘I don’t know anyone here’, and immediately you’d be introduced to loads of people. It’s the most welcoming environment that I’ve ever come across, particularly for females. Being female is just not a limitation in this sport, it doesn’t make any difference at all. There are statistically more men that skydive than women, but looking round here you wouldn’t think so. It’s more even as you get more experienced, and at competition level there’s a pretty even split.”
Rebecca explains “There are so many things we love about skydiving, I can’t narrow it down to one thing. I love the jumping itself, I’m not scared jumping out of the plane any more but I still do get a massive adrenaline rush from it, especially if I’m teaching someone who’s never jumped before and I’m between them and the planet. Victoria says, “I think it’s the whole all-consuming thing of what skydiving is. It’s our life really these days, the satisfaction we get from seeing people progress through, the satisfaction we get from standing on a podium at the nationals and winning medals, the places we’ve been that we would never have gone if we hadn’t skydived.”
Rebecca remembers, “We’ve jumped in some cool places. I remember a skydive one new year's eve in Arizona. We call it the sunset load, the last load of the day - the sun was going down on one side, the moon coming up on the other, and the mountains in the background. When you’re in freefall with twelve of your mates, it’s just the best thing. It’s everything about it. It’s the sitting in the bar at the end of the day with the people that you’ve been jumping with all day. The exhilaration, the sense of satisfaction, the fact that you’re with your friends. The adrenaline, you’re pushing yourself, achieving things, and helping other people achieve things. And sometimes it’s just because the sunset is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.”
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