BASE jumper Jeb Corliss’s year began with a violent thwap. On Monday, January 17, he jumped off South Africa’s Table Mountain wearing a wingsuit while video cameras from HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel and GoPros rolled. He flew down the mountain at speeds of more than 120mph and clipped a granite outcropping with his legs. He was aiming for a small red balloon that he intended to kick, but it had been blown back and down from its original floating position by a slight wind, leading him to misjudge his flight path, right into a rock. After the impact, he had six seconds to make what he thought would be a death or death mid-air decision. He could pull his chute and suffer a slow and agonizing end or crash into the side of the mountain and die instantly. He pulled his chute, and survived.
The impact broke two bones in his ankle, ripped the skin off his right shin, cracked his fibula, shredded the ACL in his left knee, and tore the muscles from the bone underneath both of his thighs. That latter injury—combined with dehydration that resulted from lying in temperatures above 100 degrees—almost killed him. His kidneys had little liquid to work with while trying to process crushed muscle. At the hospital, he insisted on quitting painkillers two days into recovery because he doesn’t believe in drugs. When he got better, he didn’t just return to jump again, he also organized and competed in the world’s first proximity flight wingsuit race.
He and 15 competitors hurtled themselves off a cliff in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park before racing down a course that included a massive turn and a cable car wire for a finish line. In the original design for the event, organizers wanted to float a giant red balloon to mark the turn. Corliss struck that idea. Instead, they built a tennis court-sized platform. Corliss didn’t win, but that was the least of his concerns. “I am just super stoked I didn't hurt myself further before I had to come home and get my surgery,” he said on Facebook, referring to a November ACL reconstruction.