Karina Hollekim

After a long career as a professional skier and BASE jumper Karina Hollekim was living her dream. In 2006 at the paragliding world cup in Switzerland she and a group of friends were invited to do an exhibition jump. It was just going to be a routine flight in wing suits sailing away from an airplane to entertain a crowd of thousands below. Flying high overhead Karina couldn’t have been more happy.

“I was there with friends I was having fun and everything was just perfect,” she said.

Karina made the jump from a small plane and carved  turns through the sky in her wing suit. As she flew  she filmed the others with a camera mounted on her helmet.

“I could see the smile on the face of my friend and everything was great. I was suppose to open the parachute and land on the grassy field in front of the spectators. I could hear the clapping and roaring from the thousands of spectators underneath,” she said. “And then a split second later I realized that something had gone wrong. And 15 seconds later my life was changed forever.”

When Karina pulled the ripcord her parachute deployed, but there was a malfunction.

“I had what we call a line-over and when you have this it’s impossible to control the canopy and it starts spinning,” she said. “I spun uncontrollably toward the ground at more than 100 kilometers an hour.”

With no way to break her fall she hit the ground, her body sprawled across a huge boulder.

“And normally I think big rocks are something you don’t want to hit. But I think actually this particular rock saved my life. Because by hitting this rock it crushed everything that I had from my hips on down. I had four fractures in my left leg, left femur. I had broken knees. I had 21 open fractures in my right thigh. But it saved by back and it saved my head and therefore I was still alive.

Despite these devastating injuries Karina Hollekim survived. And in the years that followed she forged an incredible journey to not only recover physically, but reclaim much of the life she loved while going on to inspire others.

Music this week by new contributing artist Cheryl B. Englehardt

The Joy Trip Project is made possible through the generous support of our sponsor Patagonia. Check out their latest new media projects and conservation initiatives at their blog the cleanest line.com.

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.