Wings of freedom: skydiving with a disability

Wings of freedom: skydiving with a disability

“When life gives me barriers, I try to jump over them, and when I cannot do that, I go around them instead.”

Breaking stereotypes, 27-year old Lukasz Kufta from Myslowice, Poland, has SMA Type 1, but lives by this quote. He has been dreaming of skydiving for a long time and in September 2014, his dream came true. He jumped from 4,000 metres. Find out more about how Lukasz proved that the imagined impossible became possible.

Lukasz, why did you want to skydive?

On my right arm, you’ll notice a tattoo. This shows the face of a woman in a shadow. It is to commemorate the life of an angel – an incredible girl who suddenly appeared in my life many years ago, and suddenly disappeared as well.

Klaudia was always fascinated by tattoo art and flying. The tattoo, which resembles her image, means that I will not forget about a person who taught me how to live and to accomplish difficult things. The skydive was a way of commemorating, we were meant to skydive together about a year ago, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. It felt like she was with me during the skydive, like she was next to me.

What do the mysterious words tattooed at your arm mean?

Et mortus est invictum is my motto, inspired by Klaudia. To die unbeaten. That’s why I am doing everything to live my life to the full in order to feel I used it till the end, regretting nothing.

It sounds amazing, but how was it possible to take part in such an extreme activity even though you use a wheelchair?

SMA is a disease like every another disease – the here and now is important for me, my health has been good enough recently to allow me to jump. The doctor I saw before the jump was shocked hearing what I wanted to do. However, nothing was going to stop me from taking the challenge.

The symptoms of SMA, such as weak muscles, stiff muscles and scoliosis (curvature of the sopine) means that there is an increased risk, but they don’t make it impossible. I realised the risk, but I am an optimist and was sure everything would be okay.

Skok _ukasz Kufta 3

What were your preparations before the jump?

Over a year before the jump I started to prepare for the jump physically. I do physiotherapy four to five times per week, so that included exercises to make my back and spine stronger.  It was hard work.

I then started to look for skydive companies able to accommodate people with disabilities. I chose the Silesia Parachute Drop in Gliwice. On September 6th, I went to try equipment on, to check if I was able to skydive, and if the tandem-pilot had any doubts.  Apparently I was ready for the jump.

Fortunately, they had all of the equipment prepared for me and so I could jump on that day. The preparation for the jump was about four and a half hours and involved training to make sure all aspects of my disability were made aware to the team, putting on the jump suits, learning about the equipment, and any other information I needed to know. 

Would the preparations needed for this skydive be the same for everyone?

Every disability requires a different adaptation to the jump. The type of landing also depends on the type of motor disability. There are quite a lot of issues you need to discuss with the instructor before jumping. For instance, I needed insurance for my head during the opening of the parachute. Everything depends on individual requirements.

How long was the jump?

It was about 50 seconds of free falling, overall it lasted about seven to ten minutes.

What emotions did you experience while you were soaring through the sky?

They were the 50 seconds in which your disease and problems had no meaning. It’s only you, unlimited space and 200 km/h winds which whip your face.

Had you experienced fear before parachute jumping?

No, not at all, I was so happy that I could jump and the adrenaline overtook the fear.

Skok _ukasz Kufta 2

Which was the worst part?

The landing was difficult because I couldn’t use my legs to run along the ground and stop myself; I had to rely on the instructor to do this for me. It was the least comfortable part. I did wonder how we were going to land, but thanks to the experience and calmness of the instructor, everything went well – Wojtek braked and we were on the ground safely.

What attitude do you need in order to skydive?

You need to want to do it. That’s it, because the rest is pure determination and will.

How will you encourage people with a disability to overcome their fears before skydiving?

The skydive was an individual goal and desire, everyone has the potential to take on their own challenge. I encourage everybody who sees the limitation of their disability and thinks that they cannot do something to change, think positively and to realise their dreams. Dreams can seem impossible. But we hold the power to succeed ourselves. We just need to be able to see that in ourselves.

By Kasia Hawrylo

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