Benita Adesuyan talks to paraplegic Dubai skydiver Jarrett Martin about the
thrill of the jump and overcoming disability
Six years ago, at the age of 18, skydiver Jarrett Martin broke his back in a devastating accident. While trying out a new stunt combining high-speed paragliding and BASE jumping, his harness system failed and he fell more than 70 metres down a mountain side, crushing his spinal cord. An active young man from a family of skydivers and with 3,000 hours of skydiving under his belt, Martin believed his life and skydiving career were over. In a coma for a week, followed by a month in intensive care, the accident damaged his spine and deprived him of the use of his legs. However, his passion for life and sport not only survived, but emerged stronger.
We meet Martin at Skydive Dubai, the home of extreme sports in the UAE and a place where he’s a well-known figure. He is infectiously enthusiastic about his hobby. “The free fall is a sensation that you can never describe. You just have to do it – in fact, I really want to see you back here skydiving,” he cajoles. In August, Martin smashed the world record for the longest time in a wind tunnel by a disabled person, clocking up a whopping three hours – far more than the previous title-holding feat of 96 minutes. But the accolades don’t stop there. He was also the first paraplegic to BASE jump on his own from a cliff, and he holds the record for the first twin formation flight with another paraplegic athlete. Earlier this year, he could also be seen jumping off Dubai Marina’s Princess Tower, as part of the Dream Jump Dubai event.
While preparing for his world record attempt, to spend the longest time in a wind tunnel, he trained solidly for a month, staying on track by setting incremental goals. “If you don’t have goals, then what are you doing with your life? For me, my goal is to get back to where I was before I got injured and things like this record prove to me that I’m becoming the person I used to be.
“I was so active before, I’d be hiking up mountains, skydiving multiple times a day, and I’d never even broken a bone before my accident,” he recalls. “Going from that to the solitude of doing nothing other than lying in bed, I was like, ‘What is this? This isn’t me’.” With the support and encouragement of his friends and family, just six months after his accident Martin was skydiving again using a brace to help control his legs, and six years after that fateful day, his name was in the record books. “I got injured August 25, 2009, and on August 25, 2015, I set this record.” Martin pauses and smiles as he says, “It almost pains me to say what I’m about to say, but I’m better off now than I was before I was hurt. But I have to thank the city and Skydive Dubai for that, they allow me to do all this.”
Martin’s world record wind tunnel flight was set at Inflight Dubai, off Dubai-Al Ain Road. At five metres wide and almost 21 metres high, it’s the world’s largest, producing a wind speed of around 280kph. “The challenging part is to stay stable,” explains Martin. “We knew it was doable, but I didn’t want to just go for 97 minutes, I wanted to push the envelope as much as I could. But three hours was something I wasn’t expecting.”
Never one to kick back after reaching a goal, Martin’s already eyeing up his next challenge, and has set his sights on a hiking expedition and BASE jump in the mountains of Italy. But it’s not all about the adrenaline rush – Martin is determined to encourage the disabled community to live life to the full. “There are just as many disabled people here as there are in the rest of the world, yet you don’t see them. When I go out, people say to me, ‘Hey, good to see you out’, but I’m just living my life. I’m hoping that my message of setting goals and getting yourself out there finds that disabled person and encourages them to branch out.
“I’m not saying everyone in a wheelchair should skydive, but get out of the house. Push yourself to live your life the way you want to live it.”