I should start this article by admitting it’s here for mostly selfish reasons. About six months ago my wife and I had our first child, of course plenty of people had told me it would change my life forever and I didn’t doubt that for a minute. What I wasn’t sure was how I would feel about flying and in fact risk taking in general after his birth.
It’s for this reason I decided to run a series of interviews to see how other paraglider pilots had found the experience of flying after having kids.
Shortly before my son was born Elizaveta posted a stunning photograph of herself flying with her son on The Paraglider facebook page, I took this as a good omen and she was generous enough to agree to be our first interview subject.
Elizaveta is a talented paraglider pilot from Moscow, she’s been flying for just six years now but has been practicing acro for almost the same length of time and is going to be one to watch when she starts competing.
Her son Svatogor was born three and a half years ago and has been watching and more recently joining his mother in the air as she travels the world flying and training.
How, when and where did you start paragliding?
My first flight was in the Indian Himalayas 6 years ago.
At that time I didn’t even know the name of this sport. It was my last days in India, I travel a lot and in one small village suddenly I saw a UFO in the sky. People told me that it’s a pilot and he flies tandem with passengers. All my childhood I was dreaming to fly. So I called the pilot immediately and after 2 hours I was sitting in the small car riding up to the mountain.
When you travel in India you become used to taking first, then asking the price, bargaining then paying. And everything seems so cheap. So I asked the price only on the top of the mountain. The pilot told me a very high price (even for Europe, I can compare now). I told him it was my last days in India and I had spent most of my money. I started bargaining with him, I was ready to give him all money I had, but it was not enough for normal flight. So he said he could hire me his glider for this money...
I asked how to manage the glider (I didn't even know the name at that time) – he said “pull left – fly left, pull right – fly right. Don’t pull together and try to land on that orange point, it’s a cornfield. If you land there, it will be easy to find you. Don’t worry it’s easy” and smiled at me. I looked down at the take off, it was a cliff after a running area. I asked him “Is it dangerous? Can I die?” he looked at me and said “Don’t worry, If you die, you will be born again in your next life”.
I knew a bit about this belief and told him seriously “If I die, because of you, I will find you in my next life, be sure!” I was joking but he started to get nervous. It was funny.
Then the pilot and two of his friends helped me to where the strange bag (it was the harness) lay, they fastened the glider. Everything was ready, but we were waiting. Suddenly they asked me to be ready, then run. I started running down, more and more close to the cliff. The guys were running with me and opening the glider…
Then I was shocked. I know the feeling of free fall, I jumped once from a tree with a rope. This time when I left the ground I felt that I was falling down, like free fall, but I was falling UP!
Then I flew above the mountain, all the time I was trying to see that orange point, the cornfield. I couldn’t tell clearly how long I flew like this, it felt long, like a lifetime but at the same time short like a moment. I was laughing, singing, and finally I forgot who I was, and my life on the ground. Slowly the clouds covered the sun, I flew down and down, when I was lower than take off the light rain started. I flew close to the trees. In my childhood I loved to climb high in the trees, but I had never climbed to the top, because the branches were too thin there. I dreamed to touch the top of the tree one day and now I was higher than trees. I turned the glider to the mountain, I threw my right handle to be ready to touch. It was very fast. When I was less than 1 meter away I pulled left as much as I could and reached towards the tree. For one moment I touched it and then I flew away from the mountain. My dreams came true. I was happy. Finally I came close to the valley, I landed on the cornfield and the corn was everywhere…
When I returned home to Russia I started learning this sport and I understood how dangerous it was to fly solo the first time in your life, in high mountains as a light woman on a tandem glider! I still feel surprised that my first flight was successful.
How soon after you started did you start flying acro?
It seems I started immediately. I was a fast-learning student and I did a deep spiral after 1 month of flying. I did it because I tried to make SAT! You know, I learned paragliding in Moscow – there is no mountain, I started learning in November – so in winter time there are no thermals at all. So at this time you have nothing to do in the sky… except acro!
Where do you do most of your flying?
I travel following the weather. I fly in Gerlitzen Austria, in Pokhara Nepal. Last summer I visited China – we did an acro show for them at a festival. But mostly I train in Oludeniz Turkey, it’s a nice place with Babadag mountain, warm sea and rescue boat, waiting for you! So it’s high, safe and sunny. All that I need.
How late in your pregnancy did you fly and how did it change the way you felt about flying?
I flew in Nepal training acro when I was three months pregnant. I like to joke that he is the first man who could do helico and rhythmic before birth.
I also flew tandem in my country till seven months pregnant.
I like the idea that I feel happiness and my child also feel it with me. It was the way to share the best of my life with my child. I was feeling good about flying that period. Because I feel that I really live when I’m in the sky, all the time between flights it is just the waiting. So for me it was not possible to stop flying.
How soon after your son was born did you start flying again and how did you find the wait?
I wasn’t waiting! My son was born and I paused for just one month, then start flying again – flying tandem and doing acro.
I took him to our flying site. We fly on the winch - so all the time I return back to the same place and my flights were short because I do acro. It's in the countryside and my son was very little so he was sleeping a lot, and when he needed me or food, I came to him, then went up in the sky again and again. I loved that time!
After you had a child did you think differently about the risks involved in flying?
Yep, giving birth to a child changes everything in a womans mind, even if you don’t want it to. You understand that he depends of you totally, he needs food from you, he needs your love and care like the air. And he has little chance of growing up happy and healthy if he has no mother.
At the same time I change my glider, I start training on Super Sonic, acro glider. Which is much faster and more dynamic than my previous glider.
All this makes me nervous a lot.
We went to the Macedonia when my son was 7 months old. It was spring time, the girls in bikinis were sunbathing on the beach in the valley and at the top of the mountain there was still 2 meters of snow.
You can imagine how sweet a time this is to fly, how strong the thermals were and how great it was to fly, for the first time, an acro glider there. Of course I feel stress I think a lot about safety, about my son and my responsibility as a mother… It was not easy because at the same time my love for the sky was strong and I cannot stop flying acro even when I start feeling scared.
So I train a lot, I work with my mind and my skills, and finally I changed my glider and found good company in the sky. I changed my glider to U-turn Thriller – it’s the best glider for learning acro, so sweet, soft and dynamic. Amazing. When I changed my glider suddenly I felt like a superman with unusual extra opportunities – and my fears disappeared.
I still feel thankfulness to my friend Mustafa Guler, an acro pilot from Turkey. He helped me to discover U-Turn. After that we created the INFINITY SKY acro team. We train together and perform acro shows at festivals. It’s the best feeling in the world – to dance in the sky with your best friend. All this makes me feel free and happy in the sky, like I felt before having a child.
How old was your son when you first flew tandem with him?
He was 2 years old. I wasn’t flying with him before, I was waiting for the time when he asked me to fly with him. My idea was that he must choose his way by himself - I said to myself “I will fly with him and teach him (when he grows up) only if he wants it for himself.” and he asked.
We were in Turkey together, I flew and trained acro a lot everyday. He watched me, listened to our conversations with pilots and one day he asked to fly. I found a small harness – his size. We tested this harness on my son on the ground. When I totally understood that this equipment suited him and that it was safe I decided to fly with him.
How did it feel to fly with him and can you tell me a little about the first flight?
After testing his harness on the ground we found a good day and I decided to fly in the evening, at 5 pm. We came to take off with my son and started preparing. Tandem pilots were interested in us, they asked me about it, smiled and joked. Time was passing, my son was tolerant.
Suddenly he said to me – “Mother it’s evening, the sun is going down. Soon there will be no wind and it will be more difficult to take off. Lets fly now?” I was shocked!
Can you imagine a small 2 year old boy, speaking like he’s learnt paragliding in a lecture at para-school. So we flew.
It was easy to take off and land with him, he was small and light. When we flew he was happy, he spoke about all that he saw, the mountain, roads, sea, boats, other gliders, sun, birds in thermals and I was totally happy – My dream came true – I SHARED THE SKY WITH MY SON!
After this flight he asked me to fly every day. Some children demand toys, sweets, etc. from their parents, my son demanded the flights from me, so we flew together. He loved it. Me too. We did basic acro together. He was laughing when we did it, it was like the swings for him.
Does your husband fly and what did he think about you flying when pregnant and now tandem with your son?
No my husband isn’t a pilot. He is my professional passenger!
Flying with a child - you know my husband is a psychologist, so he understands that it’s so important for me, he supports me flying.
What does your son think about having a flying Mum?
Haha. I guess he thinks that it’s normal. Anyway if you ask him if he would like to fly right now - I’m sure he will answer – YES!
Do you think your son will learn to fly when he’s older and how do you feel about that?
You know one year ago he learned how to ride his bicycle and we started travelling together by bike. I rode my big bike, he rode close on his small one, at the same speed, it was delightful!
Its such a big pleasure to share what you love in your life with your child, to see his pleasure from the same things. So I think if one day we fly in the same thermal somewhere in Nepal or Peru, I’m guessing I will be so happy!
When we speak and do some extreme sports there’s always one main subject – the safety. So I hope he will absorb, with his small years, the safe approach to doing this.
What are your proudest flying achievements?
Mmm… When I had flown for less than one year I went with my friend to the Russian Accuracy Cup. I went there just for fun, with a company, but I got first place in the womans competition and second place in the team competition. I became 20th in the world women's rankings. It was nice for a first year pilot!
Now I train acro, I think I’ll enter acro competitions soon, maybe next season.
I like that fact that China’s organisers invited our team to display at a festival, and Russian organisers of the Swoop World Cup also invited us to perform an acro show at the closing ceremony. I like it.
What are your flying ambitions?
I feel relaxed about competitions and results. I just love to fly, to do acro and love to do it better and better. To go deep in paragliding. I feel pleasure becoming more professional day by day. What I want in a future is to become a master one day and discover new manoeuvres. I want to take part in different festivals and do acro shows – I love to see the admiring faces of spectators and their shining eyes. That’s my life!