"Up in the air, I feel free"

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Emil Straub was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008. Despite being paraplegic, the fun-loving young man from the Allgäu region in Germany passed his skydiving license with flying colours and embarked on a successful skydiving career that already spans 80 parachute jumps. How skydiving is even possible without control of your leg and torso function, he shared with us below.

How did your spinal cord injury occur?
In 2008 I was riding my motorcycle on the Swiss mountain pass, Jochpass, when I skidded and the rear wheel of my bike slid out from under me in a turn and I was thrown against the crash barrier.
Through the impact I broke my shoulder, three ribs and my back at the height of TH 6-7. 

What was your first thought?
My first thought was that I was stuck under the barrier after I tried to pull myself out from under the barrier and it didn’t work. When I suddenly realized I couldn’t feel my legs I immediately recognized that my injuries must be severe and that I needed to remain calm and wait for the paramedics to arrive.

How has your life changed since the accident?
My view on life has significantly changed. I now see a lot of things differently. I cherish a lot of things that make up life much more. Besides, without the accident I would have never started to skydive. 

What is the biggest barrier in your life?
The biggest obstacle in my life now is my dependence on the help of others in order to do certain things. 

What are/were the positive moments in your life?
That I was able to prove that anyone is able to accomplish things that most people in our society deem impossible – in my case being a paraplegic skydiver. 

What is your biggest wish for the future?
My biggest dream is to fly with my parachute into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. 

What expectations do you have from spinal cord research?
A significant improvement of the quality of life for people in wheelchairs and hopefully one day the possibility to make spinal cord injury curable. 

Last year you started skydiving, how was this even possible? What were the challenges you encountered?
The initial challenge was to find a suitable drop zone for my endeavour.  After I met Andy Boss, the owner of the Southsidebase in Schlierstadt this issue was resolved. Yet the next problem was to find out if it was even possible for me to get into a stable position whilst skydiving. Together with Andy we devised a theory and tested it in the wind tunnel. The first few attempts were sobering. However, after we made some changes to the auxiliary materiel we devised in order for me to skydive, as well as a second test in the wind tunnel, were we sure that I was able to start my skydiving training without taking any serious risks. After my first jump our minds were put at ease as we were fully convinced now that it works. I went onto passing my skydiving exam without any problems and currently have completed 80 jumps.

What do you like about skydiving?
I feel free being in the air. From the moment you jump out of the plane you are on your own and all that matters is the here and now and everything else becomes secondary. This is precisely what I love so much about skydiving. 

What do you think about the Wings for Life World Run?
I think it is a great event to raise awareness for spinal cord injury. This is vital as most people indeed know about spinal cord injury, but hardly know what it really means.

Did you or your friends participate in this year’s World Run?
Due to health problems I sadly wasn’t able to participate in this year’s run. However friends of mine took part in the Wings for Life World Run 2014.   

Is there anything or anyone you would like to mention?
I wanted to say a huge Thank You to all the people, who have believed in me throughout my journey to become a skydiver and also to those that are there to support me at every jump. You have to believe in yourself and fight for your dreams. The sky is the limit! 

Find out more about Emil’s skydiving adventures on his Facebook page.

Photos: Emil Straub, Salim Rubiales