Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and education behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a former Marine pilot who stopped at nothing to pursue his passion of wingsuit flying.
“I [have] dreamed of wingsuiting since I saw it on TV as a child. I used to make home-made bird costumes out of construction paper with little feathers and claws, imagining that they would enable me to fly.”
Unlike most children – who imagine becoming doctors, astronauts or teachers – Kyle Lobpries’ ambition was always to take flight.
A boundless sky coupled with the ability to soar independently through the air – wingsuiting was the sport that would make him a real-life superhero.
Although some viewers may have caught a glimpse of this stunt-based activity in movies, or daredevil TV programmes, wingsuit flying is relatively new to the sporting world.
It involves gliding through the air in a specially designed suit fitted with connective material between each limb of the body.
The outfit gives the appearance of a “flying squirrel”, enabling fliers to soar freely through skies until they decide to deploy a parachute.
As Kyle Lobpries grew up, he kept the dream of wingsuiting close to his heart.
It’s what pushed him to take a plummeting leap of faith in college, when he and his friends decided to go skydiving in their town of College Station, Texas.
That first taste of freefalling proved to be addictive.
After he graduated from Texas A&M University, Kyle entered the United States Marine Corps, becoming first a naval aviator and later an attack helicopter pilot.
Hooked on the speed and adrenaline rush of the sport, he couldn’t wait to go back into the air for the next round.
Two years and seven months later – time had literally flown by – with Kyle on the verge of his 200th jump.
He promised himself that he would make the 201st plunge a wingsuit jump, and sought guidance from coach Taya Weiss to prepare for his mission.
In order to do so, Kyle began studying with a variety of experts in the sport, even attending the Skydive Elsinore Wingsuit School.
He went on to compete in the US Wingsuit Performance Cup just months after his first flight.
Several icons of the sport won his admiration, including Colombian record holder Jhonathan Florez, who established records for the Longest duration wingsuit flight and the Greatest horizontal distance flown in a wingsuit – the last of which Kyle would one day attempt himself.
Sadly, Florez was killed in 2015 after crashing into the side of Mount Titlis in Switzerland during a wingsuit flight, proving that although this is sometimes viewed as one of the most liberating sports, there’s a hefty amount of risk involved. Kyle discovered this himself in 2014, after a jump unexpectedly went wrong.
“I shattered the navicular bone in my right foot and fractured the left side of my hip when I made an error landing a parachute,” he recalled. “The injury required two invasive foot operations and put me into a wheelchair for a month and on crutches for over two months after that. The doctors forecasted that the injury would significantly affect my mobility for the rest of my life, and so far they are correct.
"Approaching two years later, I still have trouble running and jumping and am pain limited from walking long distances without a special brace that immobilises my right ankle.”
Kyle gradually came to realise that he could literally now fly better than he could walk – an amazing adjustment for any human being to make.
He now fully comprehended what was at stake each time he flew, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from pushing forward.
Inspired to further progress in the world of wingsuit flying, he decided to attempt the official Guinness World Records title for the Greatest horizontal distance flown in a wingsuit after reading about Florez’s attempt.
Kyle put his entire focus into setting a new record title, searching out appropriate gear and undergoing several months of highly physical jump training.
30 May 2016 marked jump day for Kyle Lobpries.
Hours before dawn, he and his team of witnesses, pilots and experts gathered in the drop zone to prepare for the trip.
He had to undergo a proper breathing and equipment check before he boarded the plane.
In the aircraft, Kyle experienced a moment of solitude. The feat he was about to attempt was as much a mental challenge as it was physical, and if he triumphed it would mark another stride forward in the emergent sport of wingsuiting.
But after he launched himself from the plane, he encountered a serious problem with his breathing apparatus.
It was a desperate situation.
“I knew that if I kept inhaling the same air that my muscles would function very poorly and eventually I would become unconscious.”
The only option for Kyle would be to remove his mask to regain proper ventilation – but he couldn’t do that without moving his arms and legs, which were the only things allowing him to control his flight through the air. In a matter of five minutes, the recycled oxygen would become detrimental to his health, forcing him either to forgo his attempt or deliberately drop to lower altitudes to be able to breathe without such intense pressure blocking his flow of air.
Mid-freefall, Kyle made his decision: he chose the drop.
Swiftly gathering his limbs towards his body, he was able to reduce his surface area enough to drop to lower regions of the atmosphere and adjust the mask. He also discovered that if he made a certain motion with his face, it would prevent the problem from happening again.
“I entered a continuous cycle of mentally checking and correcting all the details of my learned max glide body position, from my head and shoulders down to the tips of my fingers and toes,” he recalled. “I did this repeatedly to help keep my mind off the intensifying lactic acid burn in my shoulders, calves and core, while watching the Earth glide past below me.”
After that uncertain start the experienced naval aviator was now able to enjoy the remainder of his flight, going on to successfully claim a new world record having covered a horizontal distance of 30.406 km (18.89 miles).