Interview with Carina Hollekim – by Red Bull

Posted: June 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

Red Bull Reporter – Interview with Karina Hollekim

Karina Hollekim is one of the most inspirational, remarkable and self-motivated people one could be pleased to meet. Most people have childhood dreams, but not many are ever realised – especially if the dream is to fly! Will Gilgrass meets her.

The 33-year old Norwegian achieved this dream, as she spent six-years as a professional BASE Jumper. However, in August, 2006, during a routine skydive in front of 5,000 onlookers around Lake Geneva, Switzerland, disaster struck. A parachute malfunction sent her crashing at 100-km/hour to the ground, shattering both her legs and leaving her life in the balance.

Miraculously she survived, and despite picking up 25-fractures and being told she would never walk again – just a year on she was rock climbing. I was sent to Soho by Red Bull to meet this incredible woman before the premier of her biographical film 20 Seconds of Joy.

Will Gilgrass: You started off skiing from a very young age, what was the progression into BASE Jumping?

Karina Hollekim: I began when I was 4-years old and then I got into free riding, and big mountain skiing at quite a young age, getting sponsorship at 16. I always had that dream about flying. I was fascinated by the birds from when I was a little girl, and I actually remember one time when I was at school my teacher asked me to tell her about my dreams. So I said I wanted to fly… She told me that it was a nice dream, and I had to be more realistic in life because people can’t fly. But little does she know, because I kept that dream.

 

WG: What did your friends and family think when you got into BASE Jumping?

KH: My Dad wasn’t super-psyched about it obviously! I had been injured quite a lot during my skiing career – breaking almost every bone in my body. But, he accepted my choices and has been supporting me, asking and telling me to be safe.

 

WG: BASE Jumping must have taken you to some amazing places, which ones stand out?

KH: BASE Jumping takes you to some really magnificent, really remote amazing places; but what is cool about is that there are so many levels of BASE Jumping. You can go to a huge city like New York and be captivated by the buildings and structures, and you can jump off construction projects to hotels or anything in Downtown New York – which is pretty fascinating; and challenging because of the winds. But for sure I’m a nature girl, and I love to hike in the mountains and to climb. Sometimes the jumps that you remember the most are the ones you have been fighting the most to achieve. Maybe you have been rock-climbing for 12 hours straight. Then when you finally make it to the top you sleep only to be woken up by the wind, and it is too windy so you can’t jump and have to repel back down, and the day after you try and do it all again. Then finally you get to jump.

 

WG: What gives you the biggest thrill? Is it the preparation because you have said about the challenges of reaching the top of mountains, and I read a story about you illegally getting ready for a jump in a hotel toilet in Las Vegas; or is it the few seconds in the air itself; or perhaps the feeling of accomplishment?

KH: It is the whole package. Some jumps like the illegal ones are ‘Mission Impossible’, you feel like you are on a James Bond mission, and you have to sneak around. It is all the excitement before hand, making the jump, and the payback afterwards from succeeding. But again it is also about nature, if you walk or climb it is about the visuals and the scenery around you. Some of the most amazing sceneries I have been around are in Africa, in Mali. In the glaciers of Alaska and even travelling in my own country, it was only when I started BASE Jumping that I began to explore and see Norway because you seek out all those hidden valleys which you wouldn’t go to if wasn’t for jumping.

 

WG: What keeps BASE Jumpers going? Is it the challenge to push the boundaries?

KH: I think yer, for sure. I need a challenge so that I feel like I have actually accomplished something, and I think all BASE Jumpers are the same. I seek out the situations that make me scared, that force me to feel. Because in everyday life we are protecting ourselves from all sorts of emotions that we can’t control; but in BASE Jumping you can be forced into an emotional rollercoaster. You go from extreme happiness to extreme fear in seconds – it is breathtaking and captivating.

 

WG: Do you think it is important to almost think there are no limits?

KH: No, there are limits for sure, and it is very important to know where they are, where your limits are, because my limits are different from yours. I need to figure out where my limits are, because if I overstep them I will be dead – you don’t joke around with that.

 

WG: If you don’t mind me asking about your accident, how much of the event do you remember?

KH: I remember pretty much everything, honestly. It was a World Cup in paragliding and I was invited there to do a show, and fly in my wing suit. It was actually out of a plane, so it was like another day in the office. I wasn’t scared about it, or worried because it was an easy thing. I remember sitting in the plane and looking down at Switzerland and it was beautiful. I thought that I was a lucky girl, this was my work, this was my profession – how could it get any better than this? I was with good friends, I was laughing, and I was having a good time. I jumped out of the plane. Just as I was about to open my parachute I heard the roars and clapping from the thousands of spectators that were below us – it was perfect. I pulled the parachute and realised immediately that something was wrong. Then 15-seconds later my life had changed forever. What I had was something called a tension knot, it isn’t an actual knot but a build up of tension, and as long as I am hanging below it can’t be undone. I spun into the ground at 100-km/hour. I fractured everything I have from below my waist down. I had 21 fractures on my right side, and they were all open so I had more of my legs outside than I had inside. But it saved my back and saved my head, so I was still alive. I remember thinking that I had messed up, and I have had some friends who have died in the same way. When I hit the ground I rolled over and saw my legs next to me, and at first I wasn’t sure if I was still alive or dead – because you don’t know what it feels like to be dead. I felt the intense pain, but it became a positive thing because I thought that if I could feel this pain it meant that I was alive.

 

WG: Doing something like BASE Jumping you must have appreciated the dangers that came with it; did it ever cross your mind something like this would happen to you?

KH: Yer. As a BASE Jumper you have to realise the consequences and you have to deal with it. I decided that BASE Jumping was what I wanted to do. But before I was very black and white about it, I knew that if I had an accident I would either survive and be fine, or be dead, but suddenly I was stuck in a wheelchair for an indefinite amount of time, and I was the one who had to deal with the consequences. It was much harder and much tougher than I had ever anticipated. I didn’t regret anything, of course it was too bad it happened, but I had no one to blame.

 

WG: So began your amazing recovery – what kind of stuff did you do?

KH: The first thing I did after spending 4-months in the hospital was eating! I had been in bed and lost all my muscles. I weighed 47kg – about 20kg less than what I weigh today – I was just skin and bone. I couldn’t even sit up in a wheelchair for an entire meal as I super weak. I had been an athlete for a very long time and I used my body for everything that I did. I was frustrated and sad and couldn’t use my body because I was linked to a wheelchair and didn’t know if I would ever get out of there. I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t let off any steam. My PT at the rehab centre came to me one day and threw a pair of boxing gloves in my face, and I sparred with him. It was such a great feeling because I could use my hands. I used so much energy in that session that I was sick for the next two days – but it was definitely worth it.

 

WG: Do you understand the concepts of fear and defeat.

KH: Sure I do! What do you mean?

 

WG: Doing BASE Jumping for a start is remarkable. But then having the determination to fight on from the position you were in…

KH: Why I started doing all the things I did after the injury was because I missed taking part and sharing with my friends. It wasn’t just about the adrenalin of BASE Jumping or anything like that; it was about being with my friends instead of only sitting at the bottom with a cup of tea waiting for them. That was the only way that I could participate. I want to get back to skiing now because that is what I have been doing all my life. And I think for a girl who had been told that she was never going to be able to walk again, to be able to ski again is probably as good as it gets.

 

WG: Now you have been giving talks. What are the main aims of them and how have they been received?

KH: In a way I am just trying to tell my story, and if someone can get something out of it then I feel like it is worth it for me. My story is pretty universal, even though they might not want to jump off a 1000-metre cliff; we all have setbacks in life. If it’s the loss of someone close or disease we need to find the strength to get back on our feet. If my experiences and the way I have been dealing with it, can be an example for others to deal in certain situations then it feels rewarding for me. I try to kind of focus on the thought that people have to ‘dare to dream’ because even if your dream is completely unrealistic and seems a little far off, I still believe that you can do it and you just need to believe in yourself.

 

WG: So you are looking to start skiing again in the next 12-months, what do you hope to do beyond that?

KH: I want to get back to skiing, and the exploration part. Hopefully I will work with some of the film companies that I have already worked with and make expeditions more scenic than they have been; they tend to be quite extreme. I think that I have quite a lot to share, and maybe now if I can make it more scenic and more about the exploration and the travelling and everything around it I can reach out to a broader audience.

 

WG: Given the chance, and you were fit again, would you BASE Jump?

KH: Umm… You know honestly I don’t know, because I would. I would love to fly, I would love to jump, but I am scared now. It is a different fear than before, because it is illogical. Because it is a gear failure and a fear of something that I cannot control. To BASE Jump you have to be able to deal with the consequences, and I am not now because I can’t do this one more time. These have been three of the toughest years of my life, and I know that I can’t go through that again. And if I can’t do it again I don’t really think I can BASE Jump either, because I can do everything right and it can still go wrong.

 

WG: Would you recommend it to someone else?

KH: The people who want to get into BASE Jumping have to be passionate about it obviously. I can show some amazing footage, some beautiful locations, and some pretty horrifying scars and then they can choose for themselves.

 

The strength of character to be able to pick herself up after her near-fatal experience and literally get herself back on her feet is truly inspiring. Karina’s openness and willingness to talk about such a tragic experience was surprising and I thought particularly her complete lack of regret despite a painstaking three-year recovery was quiet astounding.

I was then given the privilege of watching the premiere of her film 20 Seconds of Joy. In the intimate screening room of the Soho Hotel a select group of journalists and Red Bull employees were set on a rollercoaster journey of emotions for just over an hour.

The film in many ways is quiet refreshing, as unlike most extreme sport videos it does not just show the extraordinary daredevil antics which the athletes undertake. Instead the focus is on the danger and the impact on the sportsman’s personal life and what those closest to them think of their chosen career. Culminating in footage from Karina’s helmet-camera of the accident, the broken and helpless athlete who had been indefinitely sentenced to life in a wheelchair is shown in stark contrast to the woman who showed no fear. Especially given she was sat at the front of the theatre with no signs she had ever been involved in an accident, the final scenes are so powerful many were left speechless and evidently moved.

Will Gilgrass

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