From Cleveland, Georgia in the US, professional skydiver and stuntwoman Nicole Smith-Ludvik who was featured in Dubai-based Emirates Airlines’ viral advertising campaign, caused a stir all over the world.
The advertisement, which did not involve using a green screen or special effects of any sort, showed Smith-Ludvik standing atop the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, holding a sign that said: “Moving the UAE to the Amber list has made us feel on top of the world. Fly Emirates, Fly Better.”
The camera then zooms out, showing her standing on top of the mega-skyscraper, which towers at 828 meters high, with views of the entire city of Dubai all around her.
“The Emirates stunt is precisely the moment I worked hard on for many years. It is hard to describe the emotions I experienced as I climbed the Burj for the first time. Every ladder rung I climbed was a physical representation of my life’s journey,” Nicole Smith-Ludvik said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
How she was selected for the viral Emirates ad
When asked about how she landed the role for the Emirates ad, she said that, initially, the airline had put out a casting call to their own flight attendants to do the stunt. But after careful consideration, Emirates reached out to Prime Productions, a film production and stunt management firm, to cast a professional stuntperson.
Smith-Ludvik and her husband travel the world to carry out skydiving demonstrations and teach other how to skydive.
“My husband and I have worked with Alan and Marta Gayton, owners of Prime Productions, on several past projects. So, Alan reached out to me about this opportunity and asked me to submit a casting video. Ultimately, Emirates selected me to do the stunt,” she explained.
“When I reached the top of the Burj, I took a deep breath and whispered to myself, ‘I’ve made it,’” she said.
Smith-Ludvik said that the spotlight she garnered from the Emirates stunt created the perfect global platform to tell her story and “inspire the world.”
“I am so humbled by the overwhelmingly supportive public response, and I am so grateful to Emirates and my fantastic team. We've made something special. I am confident people will talk about this for years to come.”
‘I have always had a flair for the adventurous’
“It’s easy to watch these advertisements and create a story in your mind about me, the brave girl standing atop the world's largest building. Some call me lucky. Others call me crazy. But there's a lot more to me than what meets the eye,” the stuntwoman said.
When asked about how her life had changed since the viral ad campaign, she said: “Though the Emirates advertisement created a global buzz, I have to tell my entire story to answer how things changed.”
Smith-Ludvik comes from a little town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains called Cleveland the state of Georgia.
“My parents were supportive of my antics, as I have always had a flair for the adventurous [such as] hiking, climbing, whitewater rafting, rollercoasters, and bungee jumping, so it wasn’t unusual to find me climbing as high as I could in the trees at my grandparent's or miles out on a hiking trail,” she told Al Arabiya English, adding that she lived close to an airport community where she saw planes flying all the time.
“I remember lying in the grass, watching them fly, and wondering about how incredible it would be to jump out of one.”
Smith-Ludvik pushed that dream to the back of her mind because life got in the way as she began to pursue higher education and a career in business.
“It was challenging, fast-paced, and dynamic and taught me a lot about planning, teamwork, and stress management,” she explained.
Knowing it was something she always wanted to try, her now-deceased husband gifted her a tandem skydive experience for her birthday which led to her doing her first tandem jump in August 2007.
“The freedom of skydiving is tough to explain. It’s sort of like trying to describe the taste of water; you truly have to experience it yourself to understand [it],” she said.
“Standing in the door of an airplane, strapped to a stranger, getting ready to jump to what felt like my certain death, was the scariest, most exhilarating, peaceful, liberating experience of my life! That leap of faith planted a seed in my heart. The moment I landed, my videographer asked me, “would you do it again?” I replied enthusiastically,
“Absolutely!”,” she said, knowing it would not be the last time she jumped out of an airplane.
“Over the years, I did a few more tandem jumps to get my ‘fix,’ but I didn't have the time or desire to do it on my own. Frankly, the thought of jumping by myself scared me.”
Widowed at 25
Widowed at 25, Smith-Ludvik told Al Arabiya English that she felt “lost, empty, and detached… like I had lost my sense of purpose.”
She continued, “I spent the next year of my life trying to make sense of my circumstances and trying to re-acclimate. I was trying to answer the question, ‘who am I, and what do I want out of this life?’”
‘I came face-to-face with my mortality in my mid-20s’
A year later, she decided to pursue her passion for skydiving and signed up for an Accelerated Freefall class (AFF) at her local dropzone.
“My instructors were Jeremy Marston and Miki Baranowski. Fast forward to June 2011. I was a newly licensed skydiver in love with the freedom and peace I found [in] skydiving and with my instructor, Jeremy,” she said.
However, in June 2011, her and Jeremy got into a car accident when another driver on the road ran a red light and collided with the vehicle they were in.
“Unfortunately, Jeremy didn’t make it,” she said. “I have no recollection of the accident or the following 11 days. I was in terrible shape.”
She was helicoptered to a trauma hospital in Atlanta to deal with her severe injuries.
“I sustained a broken neck, back, tailbone, punctured lung, two broken ribs, four pelvic fractures, and two brain injuries. The doctors prepared my family for the worst. Even if I made it, my parents were told my brain injuries could limit my cognitive abilities, and hip fractures could severely affect my walking ability.”
“My body and my heart were shattered.”
With a long road of recovery ahead, she moved back in with her parents because she could not take care of herself for several months after the accident.
“The car accident changed the entire trajectory of my life and made me reevaluate everything I thought was important. I came face-to-face with my mortality in my mid-20s,” she said, adding that it caused her to re-evaluate her life.
“I realized I was not living my life in the present. Instead, I was pushing ‘living’ to retirement. I assumed that I would have the time and the health to do everything I was putting off.
I realized no one is guaranteed a second on this planet. I promised myself that I wouldn't waste time on things that didn't serve me or bring me joy. I promised myself to love harder, appreciate deeper, and be thankful for every breath I take,” she added.
“I am here for a reason. If that reason didn't exist, I wouldn't be telling my story.”
Youngest person to skydive in all 50 states in US
After almost one year of physical therapy, she made a full recovery, quit her corporate job and pursued the life she wanted as a professional skydiver. She went on to become the youngest person to skydive in all 50 states in the US.
“I have overcome a lot as I look back on the past twelve years,” said. “For me, I didn’t attach myself to the belief that what I was going through was difficult. I was in survival mode. No matter how challenging the journey seemed, I didn't stop climbing. Some days were excruciating physically and emotionally, but I didn’t stop climbing.”
“Since then, I have traveled the world, skydiving in some of the most spectacular places on Earth with one goal in mind: spread the message of perseverance and hope so others can be inspired to change their lives for the better.”
“Hand over hand, I kept rising, not looking back, not looking down, not allowing myself to fall into the pit of self-pity and pain. I had a task at hand - a goal to get to the top.”
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