Long before she began leaping from airplanes, Australian national skydiver Michelle Hales made her first dive into a life of adrenalin and adventure right here in Muskoka.
A member of the Valkyries — the country’s national female four-way skydiving team — Hales is set to compete in an international skydiving competition in Dubai this winter. She spoke to the Banner while visiting her family in Gravenhurst on Thursday, June 28.
Though she has 523 jumps under her belt to date, she first spread her wings at the age of eight, leaving home for the first time as a camper at Camp Crossroads in Torrance.
“I guess I’ve always been a very independent kid, and camp probably facilitated that, as a kid coming up for a week without my parents,” she said.
That summer opened up doors to other exciting life experiences. At the age of 16, she went on a trip to Lithuania with 14 other students, where she helped children whose parents could not care for them. A month after returning, she travelled across Europe with only her best friend, who was 17.
A former St. Catharines resident, Hales later moved overseas to New Zealand on a work exchange program. There, she bungee-jumped from the Nevis, the highest bungee jump in the country. It was also there that tried out skydiving in a tandem jump, where she was tethered to an experienced parachutist during the descent.
“When the plane door opens it’s super loud, with so much wind pressure you find it hard to even move your limbs without them flailing wildly in the sky,” Hales said of the experience. “As soon as the parachute opened, it was the most deafening silence I’ve ever heard … it was just beautiful and quiet and serene, I just thought the contrast of skydiving, of the whole experience, was really incredible.”
She returned back to work in Canada afterwards, but didn’t pick up parachuting again until she moved to Australia years later.
“I did a lot of tourist-like things and skydiving wasn’t at the top of the list,” she said. “But I got a gift certificate for my birthday to do a solo jump course, and I was only excited to do that because I enjoyed the tandem so much.”
Since joining the Valkyries, Hales competed in an Australian national tournament last April, where she and her three teammates qualified for the Dubai tournament. They will be tested on how many formations they can arrange themselves into within 35 seconds of free falling.
Though skydivers have been known to compete into their 40s, Hales said she sees herself slowing down in the sport after the Dubai competition.
“I think I’ll continue to be involved in formation skydiving, but perhaps I won’t do it at quite as a competitive level,” she said.
News that her daughter is planning to gradually ease off competitive skydiving has brought a welcome sigh of relief for her mother Louise Boese.
“I want her to stay on the ground,” Boese said. “But I am very proud of her.”