Big Girls Don’t Cry
Karen Lewis Dalton
Ana Isabel Dao
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.
In the case of these six women, the decision to jump is all theirs, a goal, a dream, a passion. The first time Anniken Binz went to jump at Kerag, Norway, she was asked at the exit point, “Who is your boyfriend?” She looked around and announced that she was not there with anyone but herself. She doesn’t believe that such questions are still being asked today, at least not in her case as she is now an established jumper.
Ten years ago can seem like a lifetime in the ever changing dynamics of the battle of the sexes in society—it can be an even slower grind in the world of sports. In this interview I have chosen to ask the same exact questions to an array of women from the sport of BASE with each individual equipped with varying experience levels and personal backgrounds.
We have a mother of a newborn who practices and teaches Ashtanga Yoga, has a modeling career, is a guest speaker, hosted travel shows, appeared in numerous magazines ranging from sports, travel and yoga; she also holds a master’s degree in Human development and a bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology -Anniken Binz
A woman who grew up in Ohio, earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering at University of Pennsylvania and who chose a career as a tandem instructor at Perris Skydive where she is also part of a world class skydiving team. She has a passion for photography both in the air and on the ground. -Karen Lewis Dalton
“The hot Russian from Gravity Workshop team,” and no, although Karr has been known to wear a dress, I am indeed speaking of his teammate, a skilled jumper, talented cameraperson, articulate and creative artist in her own right. In the past six months she’s been devoted to her artwork and graphic arts design, further illustrating that she can do it all. -Lika Borzova
Coming to us from South America is the prodigal daughter. She has traveled the world, planning her time off from work as BASE jumping vacations. She grew up hanging out at the airport while her father skydived and always knew that someday she would be a BASE jumper. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to defying gravity. -Ana Isabel Dao
A 22-year-old born and bred Californian, who made her first BASE jump at 16, moved to Denver, works part-time as an AFF instructor, mentors in BASE jumping and is working towards her degree in nursing. She has made it her mission to bring “sexy to BASE.” -Clair Crawford
An Aussie with a degree in Electrical Engineering who now lives in Norway with her life partner, has plans of starting a family, participates in the World BASE and Pro BASE Races, and is the questionably the most recognized female wing suit BASE pilot in the sport of BASE. The smiling girl with the quick wit and appetite for adventure grew up to be a woman who can fly. -Livia Dickie
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”— Gloria Steinem, American journalist and political activist
Marital Status: Lives with partner Cato Nordbakk
Location: Sunndalsora, Norway
Children: Currently pregnant with first child
Education: Electrical engineering with honors and computer science degree
Hometown: Originally Onehunga, New Zealand, then moved to Perth, Australia at age 7
Year of First BASE Jump: 2001
Number of BASE Jumps: 1,100
Number of Skydives: 500
Profession: Electrical Engineer-Power Transmission
What will your Epitaph read? “The Girl Who Loved to Fly”
Greatest strength as a BASE jumper: “A lot of experience, an engineer’s mind, and a good degree of confidence.”
Biggest weakness as a BASE jumper: “The possibility to become complacent.”
The Gear: I jump the wingsuit rig most of the time, and that has a Trango canopy and Hybrid LD harness/container.
Smiles, smiles, and more smiles. The first thing you notice looking at Livia Dickie’s pictures is that she is smiling 98% of the time. A genuine smile that says to the viewer, “I’m comfortable with who I am.” The little girl who dreamed of flying and once fell from her bedroom window has plenty to smile about in her life. Despite her step-mother moaning that she was “mentally ill and no better than a heroin addict,” she now lays claim to being the world’s fastest flying female for 2011.
Livia has managed to take what others can only dream of and make it a reality. She has competed in the World Pro BASE Cup and the World BASE Race since their inceptions in 2009. Ms. Dickie captured first place, to lay claim to being the queen of the hill at Innfjorden, Norway, ranking fifth overall. Not bad for a girl.
I asked her how she maintained her femininity when a large amount of her time is spent “being one of the boys.” She responded, “I had a good friend who used to say I was neither male nor female, but an android. I often behaved like a man, but was trapped in the body of a woman.”
If one thing is certain, in all the conversations I have had with her fellow BASE jumpers, never had any of them remotely commented that Liv behaved like a man. More often than not when her name is mentioned it’s because she comes up at the top of the list of women in BASE, girls who can fly and who might be the first female to win the overall competition at the BASE races.
There is no one more equipped to answer the question than her life partner and fellow BASE jumper, Cato Nordbakk. “Well … Sometimes I think that’s right, she [has] made me into a good housewife and taught me how to cook so she doesn’t have to. Just like real men do! But in my eyes she is the most beautiful, caring, sweetest, lovely, and sexy girl that loves her life and everything it has to offer. She loves being better than the boys (and she is most of the time). Her feminine side probably shows best when we are alone or when she is around children, then it all comes out … AND, she is by far the best man I ever slept with!!!”
As to what makes Livia unique to BASE jumping, “Being one of the most experienced female BASE jumpers in the world, but that will change with time. I think all individuals are unique who BASE jump.
My greatest achievement is BASE was my first jump. I had a lot of people warn me that I wasn’t the best candidate—I was young, female, and trying to get started in Australia, a location with notoriously difficult landing areas and technical objects. I also had a stepmother in the background saying I was mentally ill, selfish, and the sport was no better than being a heroin addict.”
Livia is most likely correct in assessing that all individuals who BASE jump are unique, however her fellow Aussie and crew mate, Chris “Douggs” McDougall ranks her a bit higher than the rest, also having been on that first jump. “I have had the pleasure of being on Livia’s first base jump where she did a hell of a lot better than me! After her first PCA from a low bridge we took her straight to the mountains and she stepped up to the plate and went hand-held off a challenging cliff for her second jump. I knew then that she was someone special and hard! Over the years I have watched her become the best female BASE jumper on the planet hands down in all disciplines. As well as being super hardcore she still manages to keep her special sensitive charm that makes her so beautiful. Livia has had to overcome many tragedies throughout her career but she soldiers on like the true champion that she is. It is always a pleasure to not only jump with her but just to hang out around her as she puts out such a beautiful vibe in which you can’t help but feel happy around her!”
I gathered the sense of happiness Douggs speaks of through my email exchanges with Livia. At the onset of conducting this interview, she lost her dear friend, housemate, and fellow BASE jumper Ted Rudd in a BASE accident. It was during this time that Livia’s spirit shinned as she and Cato handled arrangements for Ted’s celebration of life. At a time when no one would have blamed her for falling to pieces at the loss of another friend, she remained strong and with the help of close friends carried out Ted’s last wishes. BASE jumpers and close friends of Ted’s converged in Norway to celebrate his life with BASE jumps, bad perms, mustaches, liquor, and recalling found memories of their friend.
I have no doubt that Ted knew what he was doing when he entrusted Livia and Cato to carry out his wishes. When I asked Tracy Walker for his thoughts on Livia, he spoke fondly of how he considers her to be like a daughter, part of his family. How he was impressed in the manner in which she soldier on after the deaths of loved ones in the sport of BASE maintaining her spirit and love of life.
I asked Livia if she was a religious or spiritual person, in an attempt to gauge where this inner strength and happiness dwells. “I try to treat other as I’d like to be treated, including random acts of generosity, but as to being religious or spiritual, no.”
As to what attracted her to BASE, “I always wanted to fly. I love dreams about flying. I started out with skydiving, but discovered I enjoyed BASE jumping more. You have more responsibility—unlike skydiving; there is no rule book or big brother watching over your shoulder in BASE. It’s much more like rock climbing where you can make your own decisions and there’s no foul smell or loud engines.
“My first experience with flying was when I was 5 years old, I was sitting on a windowsill pretending to fly a fighter plane. I leaned against the window as I banked left—I thought the window was latched shut, but it became obvious it wasn’t. I fell about a meter and a half [5’], landing flat on my back on the grass. I distinctly remember the feeling of cracks all over my body, but I walked away uninjured.”
Besides her first flight as a 5-year-old, she lists two jumps as standing out in her mind. “Angel Falls, Venezuela is the longest I have ever hiked for one jump. We took five days to get to the top from the back of the mountain. Broad Peak on Baffin Island was also pretty significant. 1,700m [5,500’], highest peak in San Ford—nine hours expedition approach with an ice axe and crampons. All jumps related to fatalities I have witnessed will be forever etched in my mind.”
Do you have a favorite object to jump? “Silver Wall, Sunndalsora, Norway. I can see the cliff from my bedroom window. There’s a good-sized wall to exit from and a long, beautiful canyon to fly through in a wingsuit.”
I asked Livia to explain how she reconciles the desire to jump with personal responsibilities to family? In typical Livia fashion, her response was as succinct as I had come to expect with her “engineer brain” at work. “There is a degree of risk associated with everything we do. I calculate the risks I take and I consider them worth it. I don’t deny that one day things may go wrong, but I feel that the positive aspects outweigh the risks.”
Interestingly enough, this past September, Livia and Cato announced they were having their first child together. She confided in me that the question was already rolling off people’s tongues, “Will Liv still BASE jump after she becomes a mom?”
“People keep asking if I plan to keep jumping, to which I respond along the lines of—right now I still have a strong desire to fly again and am missing base jumping but no promises on what the pregnancy hormones may do to be once the baby arrives. If I no longer enjoy jumping, if my mind becomes too preoccupied with ‘what-if’ scenarios while standing on the edge, then I think I would end up trying speed flying, paragliding, or perhaps get back into skydiving more to keep myself in the air.”
Fellow Norwegian and friend Anniken Binz since her interview has become pregnant with her second child and decided to hang up the rig and retire from BASE. Time will tell if Liv says goodbye to the mountains as well.
Regardless of whether or not Liv goes into retirement or not, one thing is certain, the effects BASE has had on her own personal growth. “I have been motivated to travel the world and meet people I never would have met otherwise. I consider my adventures and experiences, priceless. Other activities I have enjoyed include swimming, rock climbing (usually indoors), and parties. BASE is the primary ‘hobby’ though and decision maker for where and when I take holidays.”
As to whom she admires as a jumper, she quips, “too many to name.” When it comes to the greatest influence in her life, her mother, the answer coincides with her worst fear. “My mother, her early death after a battle with mental illness made me realize how important it is to not waste a day. My biggest fear is developing a mental illness.”
No doubt her stepmother helped to perpetuate the fear of mental illness—fortunately for those that have had the pleasure of having Livia in their lives, she didn’t buy into that fear and instead chased her childhood dreams.
1. To fly.- Yes
2. To work as a skydiving instructor.- No
3. To see the world. Yes, to a degree, but there are so many more places I want to travel.
When it comes to the question of whether female BASE jumpers face a more difficult challenge of getting into BASE or are there more advantages to being female. Livia takes the glass-half-full approach. “Sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s a disadvantage. When I had 50 jumps I started seeing a jumper with more experience than me. We then lived together for nearly a year and I learned a lot from him about BASE jumping. However, I now have a partner with fewer jumps than me and he has learned a lot since we started seeing each other, so I guess it all balanced out in the end.”
As for the size of egos of participants in the sport, “I don’t think ego size is gender dependent.”
She doesn’t view herself as a feminist BASE jumper, but at a time when female leadership was needed she did step up to the challenge. “I’m an engineer and think like one. When I first started BASE jumping I was aware of the fact that females were over-represented on the BASE fatality list. At the time, females represented over 10% of fatalities despite the fact I saw females doing noticeable less than 10% of jumps at the time. These statistics have improved over the years. I mentored one female jumper, whom the males weren’t so enthusiastic about helping, but I didn’t help her because she was female, it was because she was suitably qualified and we got on well.
“I don’t think there’s any reason why a female couldn’t win an event like the World BASE Race. The winner of the first World BASE Race was tall and slim, the next year it was a shorter man with a heavier bodybuilder’s form. I interpret this as a sign that technique is probably the most critical factor. As for the competition being divided into male and female rankings it’s nice to get recognition for being the highest-placed female, but I prefer competing in the rounds amongst the men, even if I don’t place as well.”
Female BASE voices are absent from the BASE forums, do you have an opinion as to why that is?
“I work on computers a lot and find it cumbersome to get online when I get home. I used to have a lot more motivation and wrote a few posts on threads discussing technical topics. My most recent contributions have been reports for the fatality list. In general I just don’t have the energy, however I believe the internet is a valuable source on information especially for new jumpers.”
Do you feel that BASE is misrepresented in the media?
“It’s a difficult sport to represent in the media. Everyone who participates does it for different reasons. It’s disappointing that most media attention usually comes from incidents and fatalities and not events like the World BASE Race. I think there are some very amazing and interesting stories out there.”
What, if any, impact do you think sharing your perspectives in this interview will make in fellow jumpers’ views of women in BASE?
“I’ve met my share of male jumpers who think females involved in BASE should stick to holding cameras and driving cars, I’ve also met my share who views us as equals and even those that place us on pedestals. In any case, I can’t imagine a change in opinion based on a listening to/reading of an interview, but I can imagine an existing view being strengthened or questioned.”
My final question for Livia was whether she ever felt like a second-class citizen in BASE—as Jean Boenish is often referenced as Carl’s wife, instead of BASE number 2. Jean being a jumper in her own right, part of BASE jumping in its infancy.
“Instead I’m often referred to as ‘Livia, the female from Australia’ and this is ‘her boyfriend who is also a jumper.’”
I imagine that Cato, “the boyfriend” doesn’t mind that one bit—after all, he is number one to BASE jumping’s “fastest girl” with the kind heart, gracious manner, brilliant mind and a smile on her face, always.
“This was taken on one of my first big power projects. We were replacing the control systems for a number of Static Var Compensators on the power supply to the Queensland railway network. The train lines were very remote and took the coal from Queensland mines to the coast for exporting.”
“After I graduated from [college] and started working on [engineering] projects I was able to save money and start traveling a lot more. This shot is from one of the jumps in Norway. I travelled there a few times before I met my Norwegian man and live there now. It’s not hard to see why I am so happy living here!
[I’m] standing on the edge in my red wingsuit and … in the yellow wingsuit is my great mate Steve. Unfortunately he died in an accident when we were back here in Norway a couple of years later.”
“Steve used to spend a lot of time in Africa helping build a school for [the Eagle Wings orphanage in Zambia]. After his accident I wanted to learn more about where he used to disappear off to so much. This is a photo of me with some of the children at the school where he used to put his carpentry skills to the best possible use.”
“After my sabbatical traveling and visiting places, including Steve’s school in Zambia, I was rather broke so I started looking for work and got a contract in Afghanistan helping build a power plant. Because I had a lot of my photo equipment it became my job to take all the photos recording the progress of the project. One day they organized a helicopter flight to view the site from above and as the official site photographer I got to ride along.”
“I met my man Cato just before leaving for Afghanistan and he helped make the whole experience bearable by talking with me online everyday while I was there. After I finished the contract I moved to Norway. It took a few months to find a job (I was looking for a job in Norway and couldn’t speak Norwegian) but as soon as I received an offer I pointed out I would need one month of unpaid leave for an expedition to Baffin Island I had already planned. That’s Cato and me on the right. Together the group of us did the first jump ever from the cliff behind us. It was one of the most fun jumps ever.”
“This is a happy family shot with me, Cato, and his daughter Melissa. Both Melissa and I are learning to ski with Cato’s help.”