Olga Naumova jumps out of a plane about 10 times a day. The professional skydiver and canopy pilot competitor completed her 10,000th jump this month.
She is driven in her quest to represent the world of human flying and to draw attention to “the incredibly beautiful air discipline of canopy piloting”.
Skydiving is an activity that is on almost everyone's bucket list. What better rush, after all, than free-falling out of a plane flying at an altitude of almost 4,000 metres?
Naumova got involved in the sport when she was chasing her own adrenalin high, but now she enjoys making others' dreams come true as a full-time instructor for Skydive Dubai, which is currently offering jumps from its Palm Dropzone from Thursday to Sunday and its Desert Dropzone on Mondays.
'It's normal to be nervous'
Taking other people into the skies for the most memorable ride of their lives and seeing them go through a range of emotions fuels Naumova's life.
A big part of her job is offering comfort and instilling confidence in the face of the terror most people experience at the aircraft's door. But she says her level of understanding never wanes because, despite being an experienced skydiver herself, she gets nervous from time to time, too.
After all, this is exactly the fight-or-flight reaction that's part of our survival instincts.
“Jumping out of an aeroplane is against human nature, so it’s normal to be afraid. Sometimes everything in me is screaming that I shouldn’t be doing this, that humans aren’t meant to fly, but then something more powerful kicks in," she says.
"And the beauty is, I’ve found that doing it overpowers all doubts and fears. So I always try to calm those who are nervous, I always convince them to jump. When we get to the altitude, I tell them to think about something else for two seconds, because two seconds is all it takes to jump.”
Mars versus Venus
Naumova is also clued into the different ways in which men and women react. She says women are not afraid to display emotions before jumping, while men are more guarded.
“It’s interesting to see how each individual faces their fears – boys often try to act cool and stay calm, but when the door opens, you can see the fear in their eyes. Girls are more transparent and are not afraid to say they are scared. They giggle or even cry sometimes.
“But once the parachute opens, everyone feels happy they did it. For some people, skydiving is the biggest achievement of their life, they come here to fight their fear of heights or to check if off their bucket list. Everyone agrees that it is the experience of a lifetime.”
Naumova adds that skydiving continues to be a male-driven industry, with less than 13 per cent of professional skydivers being female.
On a wing and a dare
Even though, or perhaps because her gender is underrepresented, Naumova is constantly challenging herself. As part of a recent escapade she casually sat on the wing of a glider before jumping off.
“It was my favourite jump until now. It was an outstanding experience to climb out to the wing and ride it for a bit.”
Such aerial stunts aside, does she still get an adrenalin rush during regular jumps when she's at work, as it were, and strapped to an inexperienced jumper? "I don't get that same rush any more," she admits, "but I still experience the pure joy of skydiving. It is beautiful and surreal each time."
"My two favourite times to skydive are during sunset and when there's a rainbow after a rainy day. When you're in the sky, the rainbow looks like a circle, not like the arc we see from the ground, so you can fall through a 360-degree ring of colour.
“There’s something about the flying that takes your breath away,” she continues. “I love the smell of jet fuel first thing in the morning. I love the goosebumps when the green light goes on. I love the idea that human beings have made themselves fly.”
Extreme sports can be incredibly freeing as they offer a gateway to a new sense of self. Naumova decided to pursue skydiving the day she made her first jump at a military base in Belarus 13 years ago. For two years, she would drive 500 kilometres every weekend to Ukraine to jump and study the science of human flight.
"It is hard to describe what skydiving feels like until you jump. For me, it is pure meditation because for that one minute of free fall, you cannot think of anything else. You don't think of groceries or bad relationships or deadlines.
"You are just there in the moment, and you learn how to free your mind from the burden of overthinking and just enjoy that time for what it is.”