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Imagine if the first woman to swim across the English Chanel had let fear stop her from making the 35-mile swim. Luckily for us, Gertrude Ederle didn’t back down. After 14 hours in the freezing waters, she bested the fastest time of the 5 men who had swum before her by two hours.
The Red Bull Fly Girls Women’s Summit invited influential female athletes—from the first American woman to summit Mount Everest without oxygen, Melissa Arnot, to Katrina Adams, CEO of the United States Tennis Association who has been listed as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Sport” by Forbes magazine, along with a cross section of female skydivers—to participate in activities and discussions to encourage women to become leaders.
The women-centered focus of the second annual event was evident from the overwhelming chaos of the 120 females who flew during the opening at iFly Orlando Saturday, Jan. 5. Everyone, from the participants, event organizers, Red Bull staff, photographers and DJ, was a woman.
“Collaboration is our super power as women and the more we can do it, the better we are going to be,” said Melissa Arnot at the discussion panel that followed tunnel time that evening.
In keeping with this idea, three women—Laura Golly, Sam Smith and Katie Hansen—were given the opportunity to achieve their tandem-instructor ratings. With only 4 percent of tandem instructors in the U.S. being female, this was one immediate change Amy Chmelecki felt could make a difference in welcoming women into the sport of skydiving.
“I think that because most tandem masters are male, you don’t have anyone to aspire to,” said Laura Golly.
It turns out that giving women something to aspire to and empower them is not that mysterious. This was evident during the vertical and horizontal pylon skydiving races that took place at Skydive Deland.
Fifty-five of the women who flew in the tunnel the day before took part in the races. Initially very nervous to be competing, the mood changed as the day progressed. Nervousness gave way to feelings of camaraderie, as competitors closed rigs for one another, shared tips on exits and approaches to the pylons they had success with.
Melissa Arnot surmised that it is events like this where women come together and share their stories and everyone is vulnerable that are so important for the community.
“Leadership comes with age and time doing what you are doing,” said Maja Kuczynska.
So back to Gertrude. If you are a woman and you are fearful of the long swim and the icy waters, I encourage you to imagine instead what could happen if you try and find that you are incidentally and accidentally the faster swimmer, and a woman. ✌️
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