Collision Course

BASE jumper Karina Hollekim talks courage, fear, and her near-fatal crash.

Karina Hollekim in Oslo.    

Karina Hollekim

Karina Hollekim in Oslo.

This summer's documentary, 20 Seconds of Joy , chronicles the six years BASE jumper Karina Hollekim spent soaring off mountains. In August 2006, after 400 career jumps and a near-perfect record, her gear failed and she slammed into the earth at 60 miles per hour - and it was all captured on camera. The doctors said she'd never walk again. After two major surgeries, and with months of rehabilitation to go, the 32-year-old talks about her career and her recovery.

How did you get started BASE jumping?
I had just started skydiving and I met Jeb Corliss at an extreme sports competition in South Africa. He was an American BASE jumper at the time and I told him that I wanted to learn. He said to come to the US and he would teach me. So, about a month later I went to LA.

And he was your partner for a long time?
We traveled together for a couple of years. He was really experienced so he kind of became my mentor and taught me everything he could—what could go wrong and how to get out of different situations. It was good to have somebody who knew that much because I was pretty fresh in the sport. He's very straightforward about the danger involved. As a beginner, it was good to know all these things and decide whether this was something I wanted to get into or not.

How does that feel to jump off a cliff knowing you might die?
That's not really something you think about. It's a fact that you are aware of, but we try to eliminate as much risk as possible every time we go out. We try to make it as safe as possible. I don't have a death wish. I'm like every other person. I don't want to die. But, BASE jumping has become such an important part of my life that I'm willing to risk a lot. It kind of made me who I am. If you want to become a base jumper you have to be aware that you can die through this sport.

How many times has that crossed your mind?
I think it was like two times before this accident that I really thought things were not going to work out.

What was it like then to realize you were still alive?
Spinning down at more than 100 kilometers per hour, you understand in your mind that it's not going to work out. But, I never gave up—I kept on working, kept on struggling, kept on trying to fix the problem. And when I woke up after hitting the boulders, I felt this intense pain in my legs-it was a pain like I'd never felt before, it was beyond my imagination. But it became a good feeling because I realized that if I was able to feel all of that pain, I couldn't possibly be dead.

What's happening with your leg now?
I can walk, but my right leg is not strong enough to ski. And I'm not able to flex my leg more than 17 degrees, which is definitely not enough to do any sports. My goal is to get back on skis, but I have to go through more surgeries. They have to chop off my femur again and rotate it so it's straight. And then it will take another three or four months until I can start walking again. And then they open up the femur again, which demands a lot of hard training after. I'm kind of hoping that I'll be able to get back on skis by next winter. But, there are a lot of things that have to go the right way.

It's pretty incredible since your doctors said that you'd never walk again.
I guess it proves that whatever you put your mind to, you can actually do. I believe that if you really want something and you work hard to achieve it, it's going to happen. But, I'm lucky—I've been in the good situation where I haven't had another job and I have the opportunity to dedicate my whole life to training. A lot of people don't have that.

Do you think you'll jump again?
I miss flying for sure, but it's not what I miss the most right now. I miss the everyday life—I want to be able to play again and not be the girl sitting on the beach watching my friends surf and drinking hot chocolate at the bottom of the ski lift. I won't ever be a housewife and stay at home cooking and ironing all day. I will always be traveling, and exploring, and doing new things. If I won't be BASE jumping, I'm sure I'll find other things that will enable me to go out to play and fly and do new things.

And I'm scared. It's always like this after a big accident and it takes time to get over it. If I spend two, maybe three years in rehab centers and hospitals just to get back to my life, maybe I spent all my luck and I don't want to end up in this situation again. And the next time I don't know if I'll be this lucky. I don't want to say never. You should never say never.

How many friends have you lost to this sport?
I haven't really been counting, but I've lost some good friends both through skiing and BASE jumping. It's sad when it happens, but I try to think I've been lucky that I've been able to share my life with this person instead of the fact that they're gone now.

I assume you're not afraid of heights?
I was about three years old when my dad took me rock climbing for the first time. He cut two holes in the bottom of his backpack and put me inside with one leg out of each hole and I was dangling thirty meters above ground on my dads back while he was climbing. So, I guess I got used to heights at a very early age.

What are you afraid of if not jumping off cliffs?
I'm actually afraid of the dark. And I'm scared ending up alone.

Does it bother you to watch the movie and talk about it all the time?
It's inspiring for me. If I'm able to motivate people to go out and believe in themselves and believe in their dreams and dare to take a path less traveled, then I feel like I've done a good job. A lot of people experience big changes in their lives. It could be the loss of someone close to them, it could be a disease or an injury they have to try to get back into their life. If they can find any motivation by listening to my story it's been a good thing for me, and knowing that helps me a lot.

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