Be Your Own Hero - A story of rejecting fear and embracing freedom!

This was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but self-doubt and my fear of heights always held me back. I watched countless videos, read about people's amazing experiences, checked out safety statistics till I knew them by heart (0.0007% risk of fatality guys!), but still procrastinated booking the dive until all spots were taken. Oh well, there was my excuse not to do it again!

And on Dec 25th 2018, lying on the Dubai beach watching hundreds of parachutes open in the sky, I realized that there would never be the right time to do it. If I wanted it enough, I'd have to make the time right. 

I called Skydive Dubai and was told my best bet was to arrive at opening time (10am) and put myself on the wait-list - for a 25% chance at a spot. They'd been fully booked and no one from the wait-list had been picked in the last two days. But if I wasn't there, I'd definitely not get picked. 

Next problem - I'd only packed heels and dresses for Dubai, clearly not skydiving material. So I went to the nearest department store, picked up basic athletic gear and decided to take that chance. 

On Dec 27th, I arrived at the drop site with my 12 year old daughter at 9:24am to learn that I was #5 on the wait-list. 3 guys were there since 9am - one of them hadn't slept all night so he would be first to arrive. And there was Suman, a young woman who had fought with her family to travel outside of India for the first time, for one day, all by herself, just for a chance to experience this before being pushed into an arranged marriage. If she wasn't already ahead of me on the wait-list, I would have gladly given her my spot. I was so inspired by her courage.

For hours and hours, we sat outside watching majestic parachutes land. People from all countries, all walks of life, little kids watching their parents fall from the sky - the energy in that place was exhilarating and contagious. 

Ok, I thought, if all these people can do it, maybe I could too. To be honest, a part of me was still hoping I wouldn't get a spot. At least then I could tell myself I tried... it would be a very convenient cop-out.

Finally at 2:55pm, they started calling names from the wait-list. Preference was given to folks whose dives had been canceled due to bad weather a few days ago, so I was bumped further down the list. I cheered as I heard my new friends' names being called, and I cried with Suman when she got a spot. In that moment, I knew that I desperately wanted to hear my name too. And then at 3:06pm ... I heard it!!! 

Determined not to give myself the chance to have second thoughts, I hurriedly signed the waiver forms and presented my credit card. A few minutes later, I saw my name appear on the board - my tandem instructor was Carlos and my cameraman was Brandon. Just then, my sister also arrived to cheer me on. It was perfect.

Fear reared its head again. What am I doing? Am I crazy? What if something happens to me, what would happen to my kids? What if the parachute doesn't open? What if the harness breaks? What if my tandem instructor loses awareness? What if I'm that first accident waiting to happen at Skydive Dubai? I can't do this!

Ok, I thought, if all these people can do it, maybe I could too.

Then... I met Carlos. His warm smile, crappy jokes, and effortless strength (not to mention over ten thousand skydives), gave me confidence that I was in good hands. Brandon was a bundle of joy too, teaching me how to pose for the camera while falling out of the sky!

Before I knew it, I was in a harness and being ushered onto the golf cart that took us to the tiny plane. 15 people squished together waiting to jump. As we soared and the ground disappeared beneath us, my gaze was fixated on the altimeter on Carlos' wrist - 5,000.. 7,000.. 10,000.. then 13,000 feet. He pulled me onto his lap and secured my harness to his. I was now literally at his mercy. I had no control. 

Every ounce of fear disappeared. In that moment, there was a strange, peaceful calm. Like I was about to leave everything behind. Like nothing could hold me back or harm me anymore. As the plane door opened, my life flashed before my eyes - my childhood, my marriage, the years I spent living in fear, fighting for respect and believing I wasn't good enough, my struggle for independence - nothing mattered anymore. All that mattered in that moment, was that I was alive. And just like that, with the biggest smile on my face and tears in my eyes, I let go and jumped. 

I will never forget the moment I began to fly. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before - there was no stomach drop, no sense of direction or gravity. Just the sheer force of the clean, crisp wind. I was flying - free, and fearless!

Brandon flew around me taking pictures from all angles - I couldn't have stopped smiling even if I tried. After a minute of free-fall that went by way too fast, I felt Carlos tap my shoulder (my signal to hold my harness), and then the jerk of the parachute opening. And suddenly, everything was silent. No wind, no sound - just Carlos' soft, reassuring voice "You did an awesome job, Samra. Now just sit back and enjoy the views"

The next 5 minutes were the most magical of my life. Floating in the calm, mesmerizing serenity of the Dubai sky, talking to Carlos, watching in awe as he pointed out the Dubai landmarks - the two Palms, Burj Khalifa, Burj Al-Arab, the beautiful ocean... and aahhh the glorious sunset. There's nothing like watching the sunset while gliding in the sky. I could have spent hours up there. 


As we approached the field, I saw my daughter frantically waving and yelled "I LOVE YOU!".. seconds before Carlos expertly maneuvered us to the ground.

Then I cried. Sobbed like a baby. I had just had the most beautiful, most liberating experience of my life. I was happier and more proud of myself than I'd ever been. I simply sat there in disbelief. I'd never felt so alive. 

Carlos asked, "So, would you do it again?"

My response, "A hundred times!", before I got up and gave him the biggest hug I could. 

I've heard people say that this experience was life-changing for them. But for me, it was the most powerful validation of the wonderful life I already have - a life that I have created for myself, by myself. The kind of life I could never have dreamed of just a few years ago. The life where I can live my dreams, not my fears.

The girl who was denied the most basic freedom was flying like a free and fearless badass! That girl is my hero. I am my hero. And I'm just getting started!

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear - Nelson Mandela


Samra Zafar