The heights to adrenaline and personal authenticity: Interview with Brandon Mikesell, wingsuit flyer
A real superhero’s greatness may lie in turning a wound into power and becoming a superhuman. They are known for developing a uncanny skill from a traumatic experience, or a dark place. A weakness becomes a strength. Our superhero of the day is Brandon Mikesell.
Misunderstood at school and picked on for being different, his stuttering has been his Achilles’ heel. Flying was his way out and it propelled him to swoop through the skies; where he found freedom to be himself. Where he uncovered his power. Where he shines next to the Sun.
He believed he could fly and rose to the skies, literally and figuratively. He turned it into his catalyst and became a wing suit star, base jumper and stuntman. Because guts don’t imply a total absence of fear, but rather the courage to push through it and create an epic life. That’s his way of going beyond. Though his lifestyle embraces a choice of his own making.
His dream life/work come true and today involves jumping off of cliffs, buildings, helicopters, planes, flying between mountains, city skyscrapers, being one of those stuntman tough guys, working with GoPro, Red Bull Air Force, Garmin, Bear Grylls… Living the dream
“I’ve gained a genuine appreciation for life from my time in this sport. I wake up excited to continue to pursue and live out my dreams, big and small. I wake up excited to inspire others to never be afraid to do the same.
“Once upon a time I was stuck in that monotonous cycle of work to live and live to work, but I realised that’s not how I would accomplish my dreams. Once I figured that out, I started to jump out of bed each day with pure joy for what my life had/could become. I hope if I leave any impression on people, it’s that they too can decide to be excited about life everyday.”
Here is some wisdom from Brandon in an exclusive interview to help us all believe in the endless horizons and the possibilities our dreams hold. Above and beyond. Are you ready?
What is your driving force?
My driving force is my lifelong dream to fly. Since I can remember I’ve been dreaming of flying through clouds, trees, down canyons, between skyscrapers. Some of my fondest memories growing up were centred around flight and planes with my dad. I think that most people wonder at some point in their life what it would be like to fly, while I dreamt of flying almost daily. I’ve been fortunate to live out my dream to fly through wingsuiting.”
Wingsuiting itself is still a relatively young sport and with anything in the early stages of development, there is still so much for us to figure out. People said the Wright brother’s pursuit of flight in planes was extreme, and now hundreds of thousands of planes transport passengers worldwide.
How do you feel about death? Is it a frequent thought? We’re guessing you’ve become quite good pals?
Death has become somewhat of a double-edged sword for me. Unfortunately, I have lost many friends in this sport and will probably lose more. That’s just the nature of the sport, even as we all strive for new measures of safety. The reality is that I am forced to think about and consider death/mortality on a daily basis; it’s heavy and exhausting, mentally and emotionally, to have to come to terms with so much loss.
However, I have an amazing appreciation for life because of that. The mundane irritations and stresses that come with life just feel so trivial. Material items mean nothing in comparison to my relationships with family and friends. It’s a constant balancing act between the negative feelings that death brings and a positive understanding. I am grateful for the clarity and wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything.
It appears to us that you were, and probably are, at heart a misunderstood kid who found an outlet where you could be yourself and found a passion and a sense of purposeful living through it.
What would you say to inspire other younger, misunderstood kids out there in the (urban) jungle who don’t know what to do with their lives nor where they’d fit in, if anywhere? Life’s a bit of a jungle nowadays. So many options, so many experiences, so many expectations…
The best advice I can give is to always be yourself, rather than try to be someone else’s opinion of you. I read a quote one time that said, “someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business”. Others may always judge you but if you’re doing what makes you happy, then their opinions will fall away. Learn from your mistakes but never let life defeat you. I’ve had way more failures than I have successes and I’ve still achieved all of my goals, because I kept pushing on.
You started at 23. What motivated you?
Around 23 years old I hit the lowest point in my life; I’ve referred to it before as my ‘rock bottom’. At that time, I realised I had a choice; accept defeat and wallow or get back up and try even harder. My biggest dreams started from some of the lowest points in my life. I was motivated to learn from my mistakes and prove to myself that I could turn those lessons into strengths for the future.
Which of your personality traits do you reckon pushed you towards this life path?
Determination is probably the main trait that has gotten me this far in my career. I faced a lot of adversity when I first started out; people told me I was ‘crazy or that I would never amount to anything pursuing this path. I was, and still am, determined to live my dreams and accomplish goals I set for myself.
What would you say to those who label you as crazy for doing what you do? It seems a recurrent pattern for those who dare to go the extra mile, put in the work and do what others are too scared of trying. We are not only talking about extreme sports.
I would quote what a wise man once said “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things.
They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” People have always called me and others like me crazy. I say pay no attention to those people and keep chasing your dreams.
How do your friends and family deal with your lifestyle? Are they afraid to lose you one day? Has it been a deal-breaker for some relationships? Or do they simply conform to it and let you be you because by doing what you love they get the gift of a better you? And if you’re not happy with yourself and what you do, are you happy around anyone?
My parents struggled with acceptance for the first year or two of me jumping. I’m so fortunate to have amazing parents that have always been supportive, but in the beginning they had a distaste for the idea and really couldn’t comprehend why I wanted to pursue this sport. It was important to me for them to understand all of the why and how behind the sport and eliminate the negative perception, so I showed them every movie, documentary, article, picture, video, etc. that I could get my hands on.
At the end of my first year, I could really see a shift in their attitude towards the sport. They developed respect and enjoyment of the sport, as well as my ‘live life to the fullest’ mentality. They are my biggest fans to this day.
I’m very fortunate because my partner has always fully accepted this lifestyle I’ve chosen. She came into my life pretty close to the beginning of this journey, so it’s been a major part of my life as long as she’s known me. I’ve had to make a lot of selfish choices to get where I am, choices involving my time but also my safety.
There’s a lot of risk involved with this sport, she understands and accepts the possibility that something could happen. But like my parents, she sees how much joy it brings me and has always encouraged me to follow my dreams.
How do you feel up there? We have read a response from you prior, but we’re trying to get unique glimpses for us down here…
I feel the most calm when I’m up there. The only thing I’m thinking about is life in that very second, and it’s such a serene feeling; some jumpers have referred to those moments as meditation. People close to me know that my brain is always working and I’ve always got something on my mind, but not in those moments. I’m not focusing on the past or future, I’m simply relaxing in the present.
You seem like a pretty down to Earth guy. How is your day to day? What are your hobbies, other than jumpsuit and stuntman?
My day to day life is just like anyone else’s; I spend time with my friends and family, binge watch shows on Netflix, explore the city I live in. There’s a common misconception that I’m just an adrenaline junkie out there chasing the next rush from any extreme sport I can. The truth is that maintaining your skill is a huge part of safety in wingsuiting and base jumping. I put a lot of effort into remaining current and active with my jumping, which doesn’t leave much time for other hobbies.
Where do you see yourself in a few years? As for getting old, are you planning on quitting adrenaline? Or is it too addictive?
I see myself teaching the future generations the skills that I’ve learned over my decade in this sport, in hopes they can also achieve their goals/dreams in a safe manner. In our sport, knowledge is power. I hope to inspire others and continue to pass on whatever knowledge I’ve gained, and at the same time keep an open mind because I know that I can learn from them as well.
As long as I’m having fun, I’ll continue to do this sport in some form or fashion. One day when I do walk away from this sport it will be easy, because I’ve accomplished every goal I’ve set for myself but most importantly I enjoyed the journey.
How do you define success?
I define success by how much you enjoy what you’re doing. Are you having fun? Then you’re successful. By that logic, I’m one of the most successful people I know! There are rich people that are miserable, and poor people who are truly happy. My goal is to have more fun doing anything than anyone else, all the other stuff isn’t as important to me.
How has soaring through the skies helped shaping you as a person and in your inner evolution? What’s its biggest lesson that you’d like to share to inspire others?
It has shaped my life and me personally in so many positive ways. One being that I’m no longer controlled by fear. I’m not afraid to start over, to make a hard choice, or to fail. I have confidence in myself and my ability to persevere if I’m passionate about something.
The lesson I want to inspire people with is to not get caught up in the mundane stress and anxiety of life, to not sweat the small stuff. Be happy and surround yourself with the ones who matter most. Chase your dreams and don’t worry what others think of you.