By Sarah Eckrich
October 18, 2012
“Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are. I’m going home now.”
Are these the words of a stock stoner character, or the neighborhood drunk? How high is high enough to be so profoundly introspective?
Try roughly 24 miles above Roswell, New Mexico.
Referring to both physical height and presumably a fierce rush of adrenaline, Felix Baumgartner made that bold statement Sunday, October 14, 2012 before pitching himself out of a capsule 128,097 feet above Earth and shattering the world record for the highest skydive. “Fearless Felix,” as he has become known, also broke the world record for the highest manned balloon flight, and is the first human to break the sound barrier outside of an aircraft, maxing out at 833.9 miles per hour—stellar achievements of existential and cosmic proportions.
Baumgartner is a 43-year-old Austrian and former military paratrooper. This record breaking jump was his last, he has said, and was sponsored by widely famous Red Bull—glad to see they finally gave someone wings.
He made history on my 22nd birthday. How often do people get to say that historic, hope-inspiring events spontaneously coincide with their own annual celebration of existence? I, for one, was completely moved by his feat. For a tense two hours, I watched his slow ascent, pausing here and there to make a snack and check the weather. As Felix was reaching his intended altitude my family slowly made their way into my living room until it was full. We bit our lips, held hands, and joined thousands across the world in prayer. I suspect it’s been a while since so many people were joined in synchronized attempts to protect one man, one challenge.
Giving his final words, Baumgartner saluted and jumped into a virtual vacuum. My eyes got hot and the sister on my right tightened her grip on my hand. We all held our breath watching him fall away from the camera. Then we grit our teeth seeing him twirl and tumble out of control, a tiny speck on an infrared camera.
Of course, Felix landed successfully. Once grounded, he immediately dropped to his knees and threw his fists up in victory. I knew in that instant that there was reason to hold on to hope. People are still out there having and pursuing wild dreams. Their sheer courage and will of heart is changing the world. I mean, hey, setting a world record isn’t feeding the hungry or freeing the oppressed, but it stirs something within us, something innate and beautiful. It’s a crucial spark in a world of wet matches.
Almost nothing has motivated me as much as watching one man realize his dreams of being the best in the world at something. He was never bitten by a radioactive spider, never lost an appendage to disease or injury—he was just another guy that kept his faith and passion, and achieved greatness.
And maybe he kind of meant with his last words before giving himself to Nature that the sky isn’t necessarily the limit, and it only takes one man reaching his lofty goals to clearly see how far we’ve come, where we’ve come from, what impact we’ve had, and most importantly, what we’re really made of and where that fits in this confused world.