Warning: The images you are about to see might make your palms sweaty. And while I typically try to post my own photography, I think you will quickly understand why I did not in this case.
A few weeks ago, I got a message from a friend from college saying she was going to be in town for a few days and wanted to catch up. I haven’t seen her in years, but have watched her travels and adventures on Facebook and Instagram… on the edge of my seat.
Originally from Philadelphia, Jill has spent the last 7 years moving around the clouds between Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California.
In order to get better perspective on life, Jill travels the world, jumping off of as many different objects as she can.
We find some time to get together while she is briefly in town. She is working a shift at her friend’s spot, Sababa Vapes in Old City. She invites me to meet her there. Her friend pours us some tequila. As you can see, even while she is working, Jill is full of life, having fun and still reaching great heights.
We catch up.
How many jumps have you done?
I have about 550 sky dives and 660 base jumps now.
When I moved to Utah I had about 90 and by the time I moved away, I had 600. I jumped almost every single day.
And this is what you do…
This is what I love. It makes me want to get up in the morning, go to a job to make money so I can travel. It’s my passion. It drives me to work hard in life.
What’s the one jump that stands out in your memory?
I had the privilege of jumping off the Eiger in Switzerland. I traveled through Europe base jumping last year and this year. I have two jumps off the Eiger in my wingsuit now. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see it. You know, you never know where you’re going to end up. So to go there and see it with my own eyes was pretty epic for me. I have seen people climb it… and now to actually have gone there and hiked and jumped it, it’s amazing.
It’s insane out there. Switzerland is absolutely beautiful with fields of flowers growing and snowcapped mountains. Jumping is legal there. You don’t have to worry about it like you do in the States. Pretty incredible.
How many broken bones have you had?
TWO! Not that bad!
One was minor, I fractured my foot when I first got into base jumping. It was actually my 13th base jump. Probably around 500-something, I broke my femur. That one was bad. I had a five hour rescue off the side of a mountain and a helicopter ride to the hospital. I spent eight days in the hospital, full-on surgery.
How long did it take you to recover?
It took me about five months to start jumping again. I had blood clots and other complications so I had to spend six months on blood thinners and had to be really careful. Once I was off the blood thinners, I started jumping again.
Was there ever a time that you thought you were going to stop jumping?
Not from breaking my leg. I have definitely had some points, like last year I took a break for about four months because I had lost one of my really good friends. My head just wasn’t in it. It was a mess and I knew the last thing I needed to be doing was base jumping. I knew that if something bad happened, I wouldn’t be able to handle it as well as I could have. Injury was never something that would have stopped me from base jumping. It was more the people I have lost.
How many people have you lost?
I don’t know… about five close friends and I have probably met about 50 other people who have died. On average, there are about 20-25 jumpers that die every year and I tend to know about 1/3 to 1/2 of them. It’s a pretty tight-knit community and through all my travels, I end up meeting a lot of people. Even if we aren’t best friends, they are people you know and have made connections with.
I don’t want to say it gets easier, but you become a little bit less surprised, I guess… is the best way to describe it. And at least you know these people are living their lives to the fullest and they’re stoked.
I guess sometimes you just cram a whole lifetime into a shorter period.
What do you love about jumping?
Honestly, the freedom. I know that maybe sounds a little abstract, but there is nothing that feels more free to me than that moment when I step off a cliff.
You can be super nervous, scared, stressed out and standing on the edge of a cliff and the second you leap, every worry you have is gone. You have already committed to it.
You have said, “I can do this. I know I am here because I am capable of doing these things.” The moment you leave the cliff, you have nothing but confidence in yourself. You’re a bird all of a sudden. And you’re absolutely free.
South America. I’ve been to Europe twice, to Southeast Asia, South Africa. There are a few base jumper girls down in South America who I am friends with on Facebook and I would love to be able to experience some of those jumps with them.
I know I’ll go back to Europe again too. There are so many jumps in such a close proximity and most of them are wingsuit jumps, which is my new angle of base jumping. I would really love to get to all the continents. A couple more to go.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into jumping?
Go skydiving first and do it a lot. It will train you for what can go wrong. You have a lot more time to assess the situation and make the right choice. With base jumping, sometimes you only have a split second to make the right decision and sometimes you make the right decision and you live and sometimes you make the right decision and you break yourself. Sometimes you make the wrong decision and you break yourself or worse. I had about 200 sky dives before base jumping and that helped me a lot to get into the right head space.
How do you fund all these jumps?
I do different things. Sometimes I bartend, sometimes I do graphic design. Sometimes I work at my friend’s shop in Philadelphia. In February, I had the pleasure of working with one of my friends in Italy. I worked for Adidas and I spent ten days in Italy skydiving, climbing, base jumping, skiing and it was awesome. I like to do a variety of things. I am not so good at committing to doing one thing for too long. No more office jobs for me.
Sometimes I work at the skydiving place and pack parachutes. I would probably do almost anything that I could still respect myself for at the end of the day!
So you are moving around, doing all these exciting things all over the world. Is there any stability to your life?
Yoga gives me the most stability I have ever had in my life. It’s given me a different outlook. It’s helped me handle things I would not have known how to handle. It teaches me to take a moment to stop. Focus on my breathing and focus on being present in the moment I am in. When all those things come together, it puts you in a place where you feel centered. Even in midst of total chaos, you can feel peace.
Sometimes in the middle of a base jump, I feel that moment of clarity, but other than that, it’s pretty much practicing yoga that puts me in a place where I can push away the stress and focus on what’s good.
Yoga has taught me a lot about impermanence.
Things come and go in life. We don’t get to choose how long we get to experience them.
Yoga has taught me how to let go of things I can’t control. The more I try to govern things that are out of my control, the more stress I am going to have in life and it’s just not worth it.
What is your perspective on life?
I have two perspectives.
Follow your passion. It doesn’t matter what it is. Mine happens to be base jumping and yoga. It could be your children, a sport, your car, your job. I think it’s so important to find something you are incredibly passionate about and put yourself into it 100%. There is no replacing that kind of passion YOU can have in your life. I have spent time talking to elderly people and the thing I always hear is that people don’t regret the things they do, they only regret the things they don’t do. So I always want to have a focus on passion in my life.
My other perspective…I have this saying:
You don’t have to be responsible if you’re smart.
It’s served me incredibly well over the years.
My friend had her boyfriend’s number on the back of her phone that says, “If lost, call this number.” I just thought it was brilliant. You have a problem losing things and that’s probably not going to change. So instead you’ve taken a precaution to make sure you will get it back.
I follow it daily. For the most part, I try to be smarter than I am responsible :)
It’s worked out for me so far.
What has travel taught you?
A couple years ago I bought a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and on the side of the box, totally unrelated to Charlie Brown or Christmas, it said, “Travel makes a person grow.” It really does. I had only left the country once at that point in time. Every time I travel somewhere I get to experience other cultures and meet other people. I get to expand my world through the knowledge and experiences of others. It makes you a more complete human being.
It’s hard when you are in the same place for a long time and have one perspective. You start to believe that your idea is right. And when you travel and talk to other people, it really broadens your awareness and your compassion for other individuals and other walks of life.
Having compassion and the understanding that every individual is different and lives their life differently is priceless.
Any last words? Any message you would like to send to people?
Never let go of your dreams and be motivated in order to make them happen. Know where you want to go, be driven and you will get there.
Also, be kind. Life always ends up better when you’re kind. Put yourself in other people’s shoes, think about how they would feel. No matter where you go and where you have been, it’s important to take a step back and take the kind approach. It has always been the right answer for me.
Jill Kuzman is a wandering yogi who follows her heart off cliffs. When she isn’t traveling, she rests her head in Santa Cruz, CA.
Follow her adventures on her Five Ten athlete blog: http://fiveten.com/athletes/athlete-detail/14787-jill-kuzman
And her Traveling Ambassador blog for Circ.om.naviagate: http://circ-om-navigate.squarespace.com/meet-our-travellers/2014/10/31/jill-kuzman#comments-54529972e4b0027c47962737=
Athlete page: https://www.facebook.com/JillKuzmanBASE