MEET ARCHANA SARDANA — INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE BASE JUMPER
The annual 4-day festival — the KL Tower BASE Jump — in Malaysia, plays host to hundreds of base jumpers who leap out with parachutes from the open deck of Menara KL’s communication tower, all in the name of fun. The extreme sport of BASE, an acronym short for building, antenna, span and earth (cliff), requires the adventurer to parachute or wingsuit dive out of any one of the fixed structures. Due to the lower altitudes of jumps, BASE jumping is significantly more dangerous than skydiving from a plane.
“I remember the day as clearly as yesterday,” recalls Archana Sardana, “I was crying all day. My legs were in immense pain, and I couldn’t walk properly.” The solo adventurer’s first jump of the day hadn’t gone as per plan. Thanks to a sudden gust of wind, her parachute had got entangled in a tree. “I crash landed on my feet with ferocious speed. Excruciating pain is all that I can recall,” responds the lady who’s made a habit of testing the limits of the human threshold.
This is her story.
ADVENTURE IS IDENTITY
“Anyone who sets out on an adventure sport knows that anything can go wrong at any point in time. There is no certainty,” explains Archana. “I always close my mind before a jump. If you start thinking and analysing probabilities of survival, you will never be able to do it. Fear will engulf you,” she clarifies. The obvious is stated for those who missed the disclaimer.
Archana Sardana — the pride of India, dons multiple hats. She is a Skydiver, a BASE Jumper, a Deep Sea Diver and a Mountaineer. With multiple records to her name, Archana has become a living symbol of passion and transcended the hallmarks of adventure limits for women all over the country.
The star athlete’s beginnings though were humble.
Born in Jammu and brought up in Srinagar, Archana wasn’t much exposed to adventure as a child. It was only following her marriage that she was introduced to adventure sports by her husband.
She reveals, her husband had enrolled her into an Adventure course in Darjeeling and since then, there’s been no looking back for her. “I didn’t really have any inspiration, but for my husband’s support,” discloses Archana on the other side of the phone. Today, adventure IS the cornerstone of Archana’s identity.
SKY HIGHS TO THE OCEAN LOWS
What emerges most clearly is the kind of person Archana is not. She gets bored of routine, and can never really stay indoors for too long. She is not your “normal”.
“I believe in self-healing and surrounding oneself with positive vibes, something that is as crucial as physical fitness. Where skydiving is a release, Scuba Diving is a form of meditation.,” says Sardana.
Archana has 45 BASE Jumps and 335 Skydives till date to her credit. Besides, she is India’s first woman Master Scuba Diver Trainer certified by Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
In the early 2000s, she pushed the ante to became the first Indian to skydive with the Indian Flag in the US. Shortly thereafter, the veteran skydiver became the first Indian to perform a BASE Jump with the Indian flag from Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia.
However, her tryst of making records with the Indian Flag didn’t just end at the limits of the sky. She went on to also unfurled the Indian Flag underwater at the depth of 60 feet in the Andamans. Further, she is also a certified mountaineer.
This spirited woman with an unflinching determination is the first to quash the stereotypes — “women can do it all.” Her repertoire stands testimony to that.
ARE YOU ATTEMPTING A SUICIDE?
Ask Archana about the obstacles she’s faced, she mentions her naysayers. “People’ve asked me, ‘Are you attempting suicide? Why are you doing it?’ The comments have sometimes been disparaging, not realising that one adventure activity has the potential to change one’s whole life and outlook towards it.
Archana credits her husband for the person she’s become and achieved. Emotional support is the most important ingredient to success. The journey was also fraught with expenses. “I even mortgaged my house and jewellery to bear the expenditure of these activities. Sponsorships were a dampener, as every sponsor wanted his own out. Today, her only source of income is her academy and she balances hard to manage finances and being a mother of two sprightly kids.
DEEP DIVE OF TENACITY
Always the one to be spurred by challenges, she started her own dive school. Here, the only woman Master Scuba Diver Trainer from India teaches Scuba Diving to physically disabled children. She teaches them in the mainland in a swimming pool and then, if they like the activity, to explore the oceans.
“People with physical disabilities don’t know swimming and hence, the first task is to make them realise that even non-swimmers can Scuba Dive,” says Archana. She further adds, “Once they comfortable with water, they also learn swimming.”
BEYOND THE HORIZON
The adventures of Archana Sardana today don’t just end here. She has a long bucket list, which includes jumping from the mighty Everest. Her earlier attempt failed due to lack of funds. Another on her wish list is the Halo Jumps (High Altitude Jumps) in Australia.
Having gone through her share of self – doubts, Archana leads the way. Her confidence belies her secret. She dogmatically believes an adventurer needs to keep going, no matter how small or big the act of adventure is. An advocate of living your life at your own terms, Archana thinks that we all should try doing something new, once at least. This, she shares, is her secret to find one’s true calling. It’s time to take copious notes from her wisdom.
PHOTO COURTESY: Archana Sardana
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