My other life: Deb Clarke, 40

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Day job: Primary teacher at the British School, Tehran, Iran

Other life: Freestyle skydiver

When you're in mid-air during a skydive, and the parachute isn't yet open, it doesn't feel as though you're falling. It's more like lying on a feather bed - floating, really - with the ground coming up to meet you. Yes, you're 13,000ft up, and travelling to Earth at 150 miles per hour. But it's actually wonderfully peaceful and still.

Then again, I suppose I have always been adventurous. I taught in the UK for eight years before heading overseas - Nigeria, as well as the Middle East - with my partner, Jim, also a teacher. We started skydiving at university. Of course, I still remember the first jump, in Swansea in 1984.

When I stepped to the door of the plane, there was a moment of pure terror.

Now, we've clocked up around 2,500 jumps each: it's an addictive sport.

Formation skydiving used to be our thing, but in 2003 we decided to switch to competitive freestyle skydiving. "Mid-air ballet" is how I explain it. I perform turns, loops, and rolls while Jim - the cameraflyer - moves around me, videoing the routine. After so much practice, we can almost read each other's minds in mid-air. Jim's film will be watched by judges, who are looking at originality, execution of moves, and camera work. We've competed in three international competitions, and came eighth among around 30 countries at the Arizona World Cup last year. Now we've been selected to represent the UK at this year's world championships, in Gera, Germany.

In the air the feeling is mind-blowing; the closest a human being can get to flying. Sometimes I'll just take in the view; the world is beautiful from two miles up. But jumping isn't cheap. Our rigs - with primary parachute, reserve, and container system - cost almost pound;4,000 each.

We'll look at a pair of trainers and think "that could pay for another jump". As for our pupils - lots of them are the children of diplomats - our hobby certainly disproves the idea that teachers are boring. I've skydived into a former school's playing fields, in Devon, and we even incorporate our routine's moves into the children's gym lessons.

But, really, skydiving is an escape from our jobs. What I love most about it is the sense of freedom, especially during those incredible 45 seconds between leaving the plane and opening the parachute. There's a lot of negative stress involved in teaching, and we're countering that, I suppose, with a different, exhilarating stress. Right now, we're focused on preparation for the world championships this August. The competition will be tough. But it would be great to win.

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