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BASE Jumping: Articles: Interviews and Profiles: Big Girls Don't Cry: Clair Crawford

Big Girls Don't Cry: Clair Crawford (Visit this link) new

by Cynthia Lynn

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States

Big Girls Don’t Cry

Featuring:

Anniken Binz
Karen Lewis Dalton
Clair Crawford
Lika Borzova
Ana Isabel Dao
Livia Dickie
and
Anne Helliwell

Don’t ask these women who brought them to the party. Not only did they come alone, but the party is all theirs. Not every female BASE jumper shows up at an exit point accompanying her BASE man.

Clair Crawford
Age: 23
Marital Status: Single
Location: Denver, CO
Children: Eventually
Education: In midwifery school
Hometown: Strawberry, CA
Year of first jump: 2005
Number of jumps: 200
Number of skydives: 2500
Profession: Whatever I choose for the moment
Nickname: Mini Boss

BASE jumping philosophy: “I am not sure if I really even have a BASE jumping philosophy. I would just say to respect the sport but don’t take it too seriously, to always enjoy yourself, and to know your limits. BASE jumping can bite you in the ass quick.” Your epitaph would read: “There won’t be one; I think the idea is a bit morbid. I would like to be cremated and left where ever it is the person spreading my ashes would like to set me free.”

Favorite object to jump: “I love cliffs [but] I think my favorite objects are buildings. I don’t get buildings very often and who doesn’t want to feel a bit like James Bond sneaking around landing in a street, jumping in a waiting car and taking off quickly to not get busted? The sneaky aspect is very attractive.”

A testament to Clair is the fact that at the age of 22 , one could write a book about her life. She is a ball of energy in motion and much the same as Lika, she can’t—or, more to the point won’t—be labeled. Clair is so much more as a person than the label she is most often tagged with: the “little girl” who made her first BASE jump from an antenna at 16 years of age without having ever skydived. She is a sister, daughter, AFF instructor, doula, college student, professional nanny, extreme sports maniac, model, and friend.

Despite the criticism she received for her first jump and the personal turmoil she has endured over the last couple of years in her romantic relationships, Clair is at peace, remaining self-confident about reaching her goals. A big reason for the calm in her life has come from a recent move to Denver, CO where she has developed solid connections to fellow jumpers and skydivers alike.

In speaking with Clair it’s evident she doesn’t view herself as starting over, but rather continuing with her journey and a need to travel a path charted not only with her heart but natural instincts.

“There have been people who have been great influences in my life; it would be so difficult to just come up with one that has been the greatest influence. All my influences combined have shown me through constant support and encouragement to follow my own dreams and path. I am reminded daily to not feed into the bullshit and to just push through it. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by several positive people who are great at looking at the good in situations when I can’t see it. I am reminded that there is so much more to life than the daily grind and in fact it is what we have to do to pursue our dreams of BASE jumping. I have had help growing in many different ways. I have always been encouraged to be myself, and if people don’t like it then fuck ‘em.

“During this same time of maturing as a woman, I have grown comfortable with exposing my femininity in the sport. It took a while for me to be comfortable in my skin and reveal my feminine side, because it is so much of a male dominated sport I always wanted to fit in as just one of the guys. Not anymore. Now it’s about being Clair.

“When I was younger I loved being one of the guys. I think in some respects I am still classified as one of the guys in the sport. I can hang with the guys in both jumping and chilling, but lately I have been letting out my girl qualities a little more. It is fun when I go on BASE trips with the guys and we are jumping and hanging out, then they see me all dressed up, in heels and they are super surprised. As much as I love BASE I don’t think I would ever let go of my girliness. I have to admit I have a slight shoe addiction and that is one addiction I am not willing to kick.”

With the shoe fetish now out in the open and her own teasing admission that she wants to “bring sexy to BASE,” I ask if she has ever used sexuality to gain favor in BASE.

“I have not used my sexuality to get ahead in the sport although I am sure some would disagree. As most people know I had a relationship with my ‘mentor’ after [him] teaching me and I think some people look at that as using my sexuality to my advantage to get ahead, especially once the relationship failed. However the fact that I was taught by him contributed very little to my choice in developing a relationship with him, especially because he was not very excited to jump for the most part. As a female jumper I would much rather be known for getting ahead on my abilities and my perseverance, rather than the fact that I am a female. I don’t like being separated in day-to-day jumping because of my gender and I have worked very hard to blend that line between myself and the guys, to be accepted as a jumper and not a ‘female jumper.’

“I believe BASE jumping has made me who I am today 100%. It has really shown me a whole different side to life. It made me realize that focusing on the good in life and not letting the small shit cloud your life or stress you out is the most important. It has helped me to let go of the rat race and just be myself. There is so much more to life than just a normal job, a house and a family. The typical American dream to me is an American nightmare.”

With strong ties to her siblings, and as the oldest of 9, I asked her how she reconciles the desire to jump versus personal responsibilities to family. “I am sure that my family back in California would be more than stoked if I chose to stop BASE jumping, however, that will not happen. My answer to this question will change slightly once I decide to have children. I will take it a little easier and not take as many risks in the sport, but I don’t think I will ever stop jumping.”

It’s little wonder though that her biggest fear in BASE jumping is not her own demise, but rather the loss of her fellow jumpers whom she considers family. “My biggest fear in jumping is losing the people I love; I am a skydiving and BASE instructor and it is a very real possibility that I could lose students and friends to an accident. It is something that has happened many times before and unfortunately it will happen again. It’s the type of news that terrifies me, but if we live our lives in a hole, blocking ourselves off from the world because we are worried about the outcome, then that would be no life at all. It just makes you realize that you have to live each day to the fullest and enjoy the time you do have because it might be over tomorrow. I would much rather live my life and enjoy every second of it. Having your life cut short filled with adventures is better than a long miserable life without. It is definitely a hard fact to come to terms with, but in a way, accepting it kind of sets you free.”

Clair’s strong will, independent viewpoints, and assertiveness could lead one to believe she is a new-age feminist, but like her interview counterparts it’s a notion she tosses aside. “I don’t believe I am a feminist. I do see some prejudices towards female jumpers, but I also know why. There are plenty of incapable women who can’t pull BASE jumping off safely, but who try anyway. I try very hard not to interfere withanyone’s jumping, but I do voice my concern equally to men and women when they look as if they are being unsafe. It is just a bummer that there are lots of women who should not be BASE jumping. There are lots of guys who should not as well but having a percentage of the minority at a higher risk for injury because they are incapable is a bummer. With that said there are also several very able, very down-to-earth, hard-core female jumpers, many of whom I believe are better than a large population of the male jumpers.”

Clair’s attraction to BASE jumping started around the age of 8 and when asked what it was about BASE was so intriguing her response is “Oh, everything!!!! Those first seconds of the jumps that I saw as a kid looked like such a freeing moment, where there was nothing clouding the jumper’s mind, no worrying about bills or responsibilities or other people, no thinking about what they are going to eat, do later, or people they will talk to. Total focus and freedom from the rat race; it also looked pretty hard core and right up my alley!”

“I am not sure what my biggest strength is in BASE jumping. I tend to be on the more conservative side when it comes to jumping conditions. I am always pretty confident in my abilities and don’t push myself too far past them. I am a good packer and fairly fast at it so I squeeze in a little nap while I wait for other jumpers to finish packing.”

Of all your jumps to date, is there one that stands out in your mind and what is the most boneheaded thing you have done in BASE?

“All of my jumps have been special to me and I can recall many, if not all of them. Recently however there have been many memorable jumps that will always hold a spot in my heart. There was a building in Denver that Jamie and I opened with a friend of ours, a historical smoke stack which was incredible, as well as a wind turbine. All three of those jumps were incredibly special!!!

“Bone headedness is all in the eye of the observer; to some people everything we as BASE jumpers do is boneheaded, to the super conservative, aerials are boneheaded. In my case some (or most) people would argue that BASE jumping at 16 years old with no skydiving or BASE experience would be considered boneheaded.”

Clair pulling double duty as an AFF instructor and a BASE instructor/mentor brought us to the question of what the most important piece of advice she offers new female jumpers and if that advice differs from that which she gives male counterparts?

“I think the advice that I give to new female jumpers does differ from what I give to my male students. Mainly because being a new female in BASE and especially if she is attractive, the male jumpers tend to give ‘advice’ all the fucking time. The student will hear 12 different opinions on pack jobs and how to go hand held, etc. When I teach women I typically tell them to not be afraid to tell someone to fuck off and at the same time consider the advice they are getting. Men are much more protective towards women in the sport, generally speaking, so in my experience I was told to take it easy not because I was incapable, but because I was a girl.

“For example, I was jumping in Norway in 2006. I had a shitty landing on one of my jumps and bruised my heel. A male jumper behind me landed in the talus field and got pretty banged up as well. I got lectured by just about every jumper there, on safety and taking it easy, whereas the guy who pounded in got a beer and laughed about it with his buddies. Female jumpers need to have a thick skin if they are going to keep it up and not let a male’s opinion get in the way, but also be humble enough to take some good advice when needed.”

Three jumpers in particular influence Clair in the sport. “I admire Chris ‘Douggs’ McDougall, obviously because he is one of the nicest guys and bad ass jumpers out there, he is a super chill, and was willing to jump with me when I was a newbie, but then would go kill it with the best of them on the next jump. Sean Chuma is the most down to earth humble guy I have ever met. Sean hucks it hard and in my opinion is the best aerialist out there right now. Jamie Crawford because he is super driven and gives what he is passionate about his all. He somehow managed to get more jumps in one year of BASE then I did in the previous years. The jumpers I mention have similar outlooks and just enjoy every jump! They don’t have the ‘I’m better than you’ attitude because of their ability to kill it, but most of all they always seem to just have fun with it.”

Clair keeps such a packed schedule between work, work, work, and school, it’s a wonder she finds time to jump at all. She explains how her new life in Denver has actually increased her jumping time, while she also elaborates on her unorthodox entry into BASE jumping. “I have started jumping a lot more recently; in the past I was in a relationship with someone who was burnt out on jumping and it was like pulling teeth to get him to go jump. Now being on my own and close with someone who is super motivated to jump and super stoked I have done more jumps in the past year than I did in the past four years combined. At this point I am just trying to keep up with some of my friends and students with regards to jumps.

“I wouldn’t consider my training a first jump course in the slightest. I got about 10 minutes of instruction before we headed out to the local antenna to jump. Not having any jumping experience previous to my first BASE jump, I think what I was told was sufficient to making that jump safely and did not just get a bunch of information dumped on me at once. I got more info as I progressed but gathered most of it from other jumpers and watching people jump. On top of short instruction he told me at the top of the antenna that I was the one who wanted to do this so I have to go first—I didn’t get to watch anyone go before me and I went hand held. A PCA is not a BASE jump in my eyes.

“I never had a formal mentor, more just someone who got me my first several jumps. I learned from him but also from many otherpeople by just observing. The person who taught me how to jump didn’t teach me how to pack, hook up a rig, do unpacked jumps, etc. (which many mentors teach).”

As to the burning question of who has the biggest ego, male or female BASE jumpers, “Ego completely depends on the person; I can say I have only met one or two women who possess the ego of a man. As women we have to be a little more bull headed if we are going to get ahead in the BASE world. I think it is a little different because as females we are looked at more closely than the other guys, and our jumps are criticized a little more. If a girl has a minor injury or has a bad landing, it is typically nit picked by the male jumpers, whereas if a guy has a shitty landing it is usually laughed at and blown off. This in itself somewhat requires a bit of a more ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude from women, and I believe this can be misinterpreted as a big ego.”

Jean Boenish, BASE number 2, is often referred to as “Carl’s wife,” as opposed to being a BASE jumper in her own right. In many situations male jumpers refer to female jumpers as “girls.” Have you ever felt slighted as a second class citizen in BASE and how did you handle that situation? “I did feel like I was put down a lot in the early days of my BASE jumping, but most of that had to do with my age. I feel I did work hard in the beginning to not be one of the girls… that have boyfriends teach them how to jump, but [who] only do a few each year at the Perrine or similar objects. If you are motivated to jump and focus on getting good and being a solid jumper, the classification of the ‘girl’ falls away. And if the men can let go of their bruised egos a bit (because a girl is doing what they can or want to do) then being a solid female jumper makes you fairly even in the male-dominated world. There is a fine line between being a solid, fun person to jump with or being a girl with an attitude, so it is something that needs to be somewhat from the heart. Just enjoy what you are doing and it shines through, putting you in your own class as a jumper.”

Female voices are absent from the online BASE forums, do you have an opinion as to why that is and have you considered writing articles for the archives? “It seems to me that the girls don’t care as much as men do on the BASE board—I know that I don’t. I rarely go on the forums for that matter except to look for gear for myself and my students. I think all that needs to be done, in my opinion, is [for] women who are capable of it [to be] out there jumping. That speaks way more than someone who pretends to be a jumper by doing a few whenever they feel like it, or are not scared, then wasting their time like a lot of the BASE board people who spend more time jerking off to their own screen names than planning or participating in jumping.”

Clair’s opinion of the media’s view on BASE—and what this particular interview will contribute to the noise versus insightful information—is aligned with most jumpers I have encountered over the past two years. “BASE to a large population of the general public is still viewed as ludicrous or insane; with that comes a stereotypes. Nine times out of ten when the public is subjected to BASE jumping it is either in the movies where it is typically depicted as a reckless sport, and is also usually super fake, or it is on the news. When it is on the news it is typically looked at as a negative and very reckless as well. I believe that it is very misrepresented by the media for the most part, and of course jumpers are partly responsible for it; like with any misinterpretation there is an initial root for it.

“I think there is an attitude that a large group of BASE jumpers enjoy having and that definitely negatively represents the sport. Because let’s face it—who wants to see a nice person make a safe BASE jump when you can get footage of a douchebag who makes himself look ‘bad ass’ and who has an attitude like a toilet…shitty.

“I think that positive representation in the media will only help the sport, thanks to people like Roberta Mancino, who is a very pretty face and not the classic ‘I’m so hard core’ and ‘You’re gonna die doing this’ attitude and although she is still very new to the sport of jumping she has a very able mentor and she seems to be extremely able as well. Positive press and coming from a female is great!”

In conclusion I asked Clair how she wished to be remembered by the people in her life, and in typical Clair fashion the reply is infused with her independent attitude. “I want to be remembered as a person who didn’t let other people tell me that I couldn’t do something, a person who kept moving forward and followed my dreams full heartily regardless of public opinion and judgment, but did it with a smile. I want to be remembered as a positive influence in life and in the sport of BASE.”

Author’s note: Since this interview, Clair has been diagnosed with Lupus. Clair being Clair has taken the illness full on by not allowing it to define who she is as a person or what her limitations will be. If anything, she is going harder now than ever and taking action to bring awareness to the illness, as well as raising funds for research. Check out Clair’s website at: www.basegirl.com or add her on Facebook at BASEgirl for updated information.


Submitted by Cynthia Lynn on 2012-05-31

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