Dubai’s world record breaking paraplegic skydiver

He’s paralysed from the chest down, but skydiver Jarrett Martin followed his dream to become a record-breaker.

Peter Iantorno September 13, 2015

It takes a certain kind of person to break a world record. Hard work, grit and determination are all needed, and when it comes to those three qualities, nobody displays them more than paraplegic skydiver Jarrett Martin.

Earlier this month, Martin broke the world record for the longest flight time in a wind tunnel by a disabled person. The American spent an incredible three hours in the tunnel, almost doubling the previous record of 96 minutes.

It is an amazing feat, but the most impressive thing about the 24-year-old’s record is that just six years ago, he was lying in a hospital bed in critical condition, after a horrific paragliding accident.

“I consider myself really lucky to be alive, says new world-record holder, Martin. “I was doing an extraordinary stunt that involved high-speed paragliding (speed flying) mixed in with a base jump. After launching off a 2,000 ft. mountain, my parachute malfunctioned and collapsed. I tumbled down the mountain, breaking my back and injuring my internal organs.” 

The accident left Martin paralysed from the chest down and at just 18 years old, he was faced with the reality that he would never be able to walk again. 

“The recovery was excruciating,” says Martin. “I had really injured myself, both physically and mentally. I was in the hospital for two-and-a-half months just learning how to live without the use of my legs.

The tragic incident would have been enough to destroy most people’s lives, but not Martin – he is made of sterner stuff. “Six months later, I was back skydiving again. The feeling was absolutely liberating.

“The six months I spent without skydiving was the longest I had ever been without it. Skydiving has always been my passion and will continue to be, so when I knew that I could do it successfully as a paraplegic, I was really excited to explore the sport further and push the envelope for other skydivers with disabilities. 

This incredible resolve saw Martin go on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, pushing the limits and completing challenges hitherto thought impossible for disabled people. 

As well as his wind tunnel world record, since his accident he has performed a daring unaided BASE jump from a cliff in Kjerag, Norway; he holds the record for the first twin-formation flight with another paraplegic athlete; and earlier this year, he participated in Dubai’s Dream Jump, by throwing himself of Dubai’s Princess Tower in a wheelchair.

Yet among all the achievements and accolades and throughout the incredible journey he has been on to get where he is today, Jarrett maintains that the toughest challenge he has ever faced is to be content with what he has.

“It is never enough,” he says. “I want to be the exact same person that I was before my injury. When I do these exciting things it is almost as if I have to prove to myself that I’m still that same person. But I always want to continue to push the limits. 

And pushing the limits is certainly what Martin did when it came to breaking the wind tunnel record. “The training took several months,” he says. “The record is a matter of endurance, both physically and mentally.

“I had to balance between training hard and then leaving myself enough time to rest in between to make sure I would keep myself safe with regards to my disability.

“During training, the longest flight time I had accomplished was only 60 minutes, so you can imagine my surprise when I lasted for three hours and broke the world record! I was so overwhelmed with emotion - it felt absolutely incredible.”

Now a permanent resident of Dubai, after moving from his native America in 2014 to take his dream job as a master parachute rigger at Skydive Dubai, Martin is full of praise for his adopted home.

“Dubai is the most interesting city I have ever been in,” he beams. “As an American, the first thing that stands out is the culture and the architecture. I have been fortunate to become a part of such a diverse population and call Dubai my home.

And while Martin loves Dubai for its culture, the extreme sport scene is the city’s biggest draw for him. “Action sports are really starting to gain ground and the community just keeps growing bigger and bigger,” he says.

“People now have so many options, from skydiving at Skydive Dubai, to being in a wind tunnel at Inflight Dubai, scuba diving, skiing and so much more. Also, with special projects like BASE jumping from the Burj Khalifa and Princess Tower, along with the new Jetman project, Dubai really stands out in the world of action sport.”

So, what’s next for Martin? “More, more and more,” says the extreme sports enthusiast, “I want to explore other sports.

“I would consider myself an expert in a lot of things aviation. Now I want to venture into other extreme disabled sports such as sit-skiing and kite surfing. In the immediate future, I have plans in October to go on a BASE jumping expedition to Italy or Malaysia.”

From hospital bed to aviation expert and world record holder in just six years, there’s no doubt that the incredible Jarrett Martin has the drive, determination and skill to conquer just about anything.