Jarrett Martin was paralyzed at the age of 18 by a stunt jump that went wrong
Now 24, Martin is back in the skies, working as a skydiving instructor in Dubai
"You put your mind to it and anything can happen," says Martin
Skydiver Jarrett Martin is a stark reminder of what can go wrong in extreme sports.
The Dubai-based young American is also a powerful advertisement for putting safety first when you tackle a stunt laced with potentially fatal risks.
Martin wasn’t even out of his teens when the sport with which he was obsessed almost killed him. Yet, he came back from the brink to chalk up a world first – and secure a job at the busiest sky diving center in the Middle East.
The 24-year-old is a familiar figure at Skydive Dubai, where he is one of just two qualified master parachute riggers in the United Arab Emirates.
Earlier this year, Martin achieved even more notoriety when he completed 11 so-called BASE jumps – from a fixed structure or cliff – in four days in the Norwegian fjords.
Leaving his wheelchair at the summit of a 3,000-foot (914 meters) peak, he pushed himself off and became the first disabled person to successfully make such a jump unassisted.
By rights the Seattle-born sportsman shouldn’t be here at all.
At 18, a jump stunt went wrong and left him fighting for his life with a broken back, a torn aorta, battered lungs and kidneys, and paralyzed from the chest down.
Martin emerged from his coma and had a question for the doctors who saved him.
“‘When can I start skydiving again’, I asked,” he recalls.
Most people would have quit and considered their luck at surviving. Yet, not only did Martin dive out of a plane six months later, he became one of just two disabled people in the world to complete a BASE jump.
Then, in March of this year, he was taken on by Skydive Dubai, impressed by his skills when he competed for the United States in an accuracy skydive event over Dubai.
Martin acknowledges his wheelchair makes some rookie skydive customers nervous, but his journey is nothing short of inspirational.
He says: “It is good for them to see me as anything is a possibility.
“The paralysis I have isn’t that common. You either survive or you don’t.
“Half my body survived and half didn’t. That’s why I’m in a wheelchair. But what you do afterward speaks a lot. A lot of people get paralyzed and they just let themselves go and get reclusive.”
Martin was a veteran of 2,800 jumps when he broke his body during a speed-flying attempt in Hawaii, where he worked for a skydive business.
A hybrid of paragliding and BASE jumping, it involved leaping from a cliff.
“I was trying new things and things didn’t quite go to plan and my parachute collapsed. I fell a couple of hundred feet and broke my back and damaged a lot of my insides.
“You have this wing that’s laid out behind you. I was going to run and the parachute would inflate and I was going to start gliding down the mountainside.
“Once I was airborne I was going to try to get enough altitude so I could release that parachute and open up a secondary parachute.
“In the midst of all the action and with a new special harness I had built, I was flying for about 10 seconds and that parachute prematurely released and I didn’t have enough altitude to deploy my secondary chute.”
Martin pauses as he recalls the moment.
“I should have been dead. Miraculously I survived.
“The doctors did a good job of putting me back together. It takes a while to get healthy enough to even get out of bed let alone get in an airplane, but thankfully within six months I was.”
Martin took a year to fully rehabilitate. He studied air traffic control, but struggled to get a job, so then decided to head to Florida in order to become a master parachute rigger.
“I was responsible for my equipment that day in Hawaii and it has made me a very detail orientated person today. Not only do I double check everything, I triple check and ask opinions of other qualified people,” he says.
These days Martin is among just a dozen wheelchair skydivers in the world and remains part of the U.S. parachuting team that competed over Dubai.
“When I got hurt I thought I would never get to go to Dubai and check out all the cool things there. So to be in Dubai right now is really a dream come true,” says Martin, who still manages 200 jumps a year.
“I never thought it would be possible to work here in my condition but you put your mind to it and anything can happen. It took that accident almost to realize how much passion I have for the job I do now.
“My grandfather and my father were skydivers. I’ve been around it all my life, so even with something as dramatic as getting paralyzed, that’s not going to slow me down.
“If there’s a will there’s a way. I’ve found the way and it’s awesome to continue doing what I love.”