Q and A with Heather Swan
Heather Swan is a world record holding wingsuit pilot and one of Australia's best know adventurers. She holds a number of World and Australian records in extreme sport, including one for a wingsuit flight from a 6672 metre mountain in the Himalayas. We caught up with her to talk adventures, inspiration, and her first ever BASEjump.
What is the most amazing adventure you’ve ever been on?
It’s a toss up between climbing and wingsuit BASEjumping Mt Meru (6672m) in the Garwhal Himalaya in India and making the first wingsuit flight across the Grand Canyon. Both were unique and amazing adventures. Both were life changing.
We spent three weeks climbing Mt Meru on a new route. We were the only people on that beautiful mountain. Then to jump off and fly down the Meru Glacier, just as a bird might was incredible. Similarly jumping out of a plane 28,000ft above the Grand Canyon and making the first wingsuit crossing from rim to rim was at once terrifying, exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful.
Tell me about your first ever BASEjump….
My first BASEjump was from the Perrine River Bridge in Twin Falls Idaho. The 486 foot high bridge spans the Snake River Canyon. It’s the best place in the world to learn to BASEjump because it’s legal and there is nothing to hit if your canopy opens facing in the wrong direction (one of the biggest dangers of BASEjumping). Still, standing on the edge, contemplating just the idea of letting go, I didn’t think I could do it. I wrestled with the pros and cons for two days, while watching others jump and working with my coach, Marta Empinotti. Marta is the world’s most experienced female BASEjumper. An remarkable woman who gave me the skills and self-belief I needed to make that first jump. It was incredible. There is nothing quite like moving past a wall of fear, to discover a bigger horizon on the other side.
What is it like being on a team with your husband, Glenn?
Glenn and I have been adventuring together for almost 20 years now. Over that time we’ve developed the unique and powerful bond born of sharing ‘extreme’ experiences. There is a saying that nothing bonds like shared fear, and I’d have to agree. Over the course of many highs and lows, we’ve supported each other, we’ve argued, we’ve laughed, and ultimately we’ve relied on each other to come through. We complement each other, we know and trust each other. For me, he has transformed ‘impossible’ into a challenge to be solved. He inspires me to dream big, to believe in myself and to never back down just because I’m afraid.
Do you think adventures are an important part of life? Why?
We were designed for adventure. We were designed to move and to challenge ourselves. It doesn’t need to be jumping off mountains. Trail running or walking is a perfect example. Trail running is Glenn’s and my ‘everyday adventure’. We have a beautiful 8km trail that we do with our dogs every day that we’re home. It has lots of rough sections where we need to stay alert, ready to jump or change tack. It’s a mind and body workout in nature. I think we need that. I calculated the other day that so far Glenn and I have run more than 52,000km together. That’s a lot of shared experience, a lot of time to chat and just be together in nature. Adventure feeds mind and body. It makes me happy, keeps me fit (and gives me a reason to get even fitter). It keeps me challenged, passionate and sharp.
Who inspires you?
Glenn of course, plus my other team mates on our Grand Canyon flight – Paul Tozer and Roger Hugelshofer. Marta Empinotti still inspires me. My climbing buddy Tove Petterson (one of the toughest most determined women I’ve ever met), and Di Westaway and Lisa Marshall – there are so many incredible people doing amazing things.
What’s next on your adventure list?
We would love to fly the Seven Summits in our wingsuits, particularly the North East Ridge of Mt Everest. So begins the dreaming, the planning and permission process and probably most challenging – raising the money.
About Heather Swan
Heather Swan is a world record holding wingsuit pilot and one of Australia's best know adventurers. She holds a number of World and Australian records in extreme sport, including one for a wingsuit flight from a 6672 metre mountain in the Himalayas. She is the only woman in the world to successfully combine high altitude mountaineering and wingsuit flying. Just recently, with her husband Dr. Glenn Singleman and the BASEClimb High Performance wingsuit team, she made the first wingsuit flight across The Grand Canyon. When she is not adventuring Heather is an award winning writer and photographer. You can check out more about Heather on her website.