India's skydiving queen is here!

India's skydiving queen is here!

India's skydiving queen is here!

Skydiving is perceived as risky and inaccessible. Mrityunjay Bose is pleasantly surprised on meeting Shital Mahajan, a skydiver, who has broken many records in the sport.

For Shital Mahajan, getting into skydiving has not been an easy task. Firstly, it is a sport of adventure and a male-dominated one at that. And second, this particular sport is not easily accessible to a layman. But with lots of grit, determination and persistence, Shital has managed to carve a nich for herself in this sport and has 650 jumps to her credit today. 

A mother of two, Shital holds more than two dozen records and achievements – which include 14 national records and five world records. “Records do make me happy. But my true mission is to see many more Shital Mahajans in India,” she says, while preparing for her next mission. What’s more, this Pune resident, who founded the Phoenix Skydiving Academy is also the first woman to perform successful jumps over the North Pole and South Pole, without trials. 

As a science student of the Fergusson College, Shital wanted recognition early on in life and she was willing to tread down a new path. “I was all alone and had no training whatsoever. But I just went with my gut and headed to the North Pole in 2004, then to Antarctica and then the South Pole in 2007,” she said.

Although her risky ambitions faced opposition from her parents initially, they came around as a big support later. The 33-year-old queen of free fall even got married in a hot air balloon, setting another record of sorts. 

To take the sport further, Shital petitioned the government to extend the reach of skydiving beyond the armed forces. Her persistent effort got her the opportunity of being amongst the few privileged civilians, who underwent a basic skydiving course with the Indian Air Force in December 2007.

A daredevil of sorts, Shital has jumped from above 13,500 feet and even from 18,000 feet (with oxygen) from six different kinds of aircrafts. She even has the United States Parachuting License and coach ratings and has undergone 10 hours of vertical wind tunnel training at Skydive, Arizona. She is also the first woman to do a wingsuit jump and a base jump from a hot air ballon.

Recognising her talents and feats, the government of Maharashtra honoured her with the Shiv Chhatrapati State Sports Award in 2005. But her true recognition came when she was awarded the Padmashri in 2011.

“Our daughter has really made us proud. She has put in a lot of hard work, and her confidence and determination is commendable,” said her father, Kamlakar Mahajan.Ask her about how she feels about so many laurels, and she says, “I do have many records and awards to my name. But I want to use them to make people aware of the joys of skydiving. It’s not as scary as you think.”

She is soon going to be a part of a team of hundred Indian women, who are going to perform tandem skyjumping in April as well as hundred women who are going to scuba dive in Australia to create a new record.

Tandem jump is considered to be relatively safer than any other type of skydiving as it requires little or no training. It is generally preferred by the first-time jumpers as it is the quickest and easiest way to experience the exhilaration of free fall. 

In this type of jump, you will be attached to an experienced skydiver, much like how a joey sits in the pouch of its mother kangaroo and then, jump from a height ranging from 12,000-14,000 feet.

Freefalling at a speed of 120 mph, you will get to experience enthralling views of the ground and sky before returning to the ground safely. As far as scuba diving is concerned, it would involve swimming underwater for 30-45 minutes to experience the secret, mystical life of the fishes.

“I am in an excellent place in my life right now. I can easily land up as an instructor in United States or Europe. But I want to stay in India and contribute my share to this sport,” Shital concludes.

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