We spoke to Shital Mahajan on her experience of being up in the air.
Shital Mahajan is currently the only Indian civilian professional Skydiver to represent India internationally. She holds 6 World records and 17 National records in the sport. She is known to be the first woman to have done the first ever parachute jump without any training over the Geographical North pole in minus 37 Degrees Celsius and her first accelerated free fall jump without any prior trials over the Antarctica – South pole from 11,600 feet. Effectively, she is the youngest woman to jump over both the North and South Poles. She has to her credit 700 Parachute jumps until November 2017. Her vision is to bring skydiving to the forefront of the sports arena in India. In conversation with her, we unearthed her passion for sports.
- How did you get motivated to try this extreme sport?
I have noticed that most parents don’t encourage sports just because girls need to be protected. My parents were protective too initially. However, I have been very strong-headed. From childhood, I wanted to do something different. When I was in Pune, I got in touch with Captain. He used to train people in skydiving. I sent and met him, said I want to do something that will do my country proud. I persisted for a year, for him to teach me the sport. My persistence paid off, and I finally got a chance to train with him. This was in 2004. Since then, I have represented India in various skydiving Championships and World record attempts.
- You are now a holder of 5 world records and 14 National records in skydiving. Which are some of the biggest challenges you faced when you 1st started skydiving… how did you tackle them?
According to me, skydivers face different issues. One is access to quality training, especially in Tier 2 cities. And the second is sustained practice. The cost of training regularly or sustained practice is significant, which puts this sport out of the reach of many who might have become good at it.
I overcame these issues with a determined mindset and support from my father. Without these two factors, it would have been difficult to perform well. My father has been a great supporter and he motivates me even today.
- What are some of the stereotypes that you are aiming to change, by the following skydiving?
Talking about the stereotypes, Shital Mahajan said, “it is difficult to convince people and our society does not accept a woman doing such extreme sports but if a woman knows what she wants, she will do all possible things to achieve it.”
We live in a society where women are not encouraged for sports or extreme sports but Shital Mahajan has broken all the stereotypes and she has proved that a woman can achieve everything if she desires it. “Woman can do anything she just needs a chance!”
- Share an experience that you would term as off-beat in all of your skydiving experiences so far:
Let me share few of my favourite experiences… first of all, I have been in love with my sport so much that I decided when I get married, it will be a very offbeat wedding. So that’s why my husband and I got married in a hot air balloon, few hundred feet up in the air!
I have always dedicated my awards to India. Whenever asked in an international competition, I would say “Main Bharat ki Beti hoon!”
There came a time when I wanted to do something on behalf of Maharashtra. That’s when I successfully attempted skydiving wearing Nav-wari saree, which is symbolic of our state. I felt it symbolises the courage and risk-taking ability that we women in Maharashtra have within us.
- Which are the 3 qualities that are a must in order for a person to succeed in extreme sports?
I believe that person must be a risk-taker, have a never-say-die attitude and must be willing to persevere. There simply are no short-cuts. Also, the extreme sport requires stamina. Both physical and mental stamina. I encourage people to work on the quality of their mind, even while they are training for physical fitness.
- What are some of your pet projects for the future?
Oh, there’s a lot on that list! I want to dive from Mt. Everest and also from space. I am currently working on these projects. I will also participate in wingsuit flying and I want to be the first Indian woman to participate in it.
- What advice would you give women to become go-getters like you?
Today International Women’s Day is a reason for celebration. Why should it be just one day? What about the other 364 days? Make every day a celebration of your womanhood. You have that spark in your heart just come out and explore the world and conquer. Do things yourself, you can achieve everything.