So how did a 16 year old school girl from Sydney embark on a journey that led her to become one of only a small handful of female indoor skydiving instructors, and one of the youngest female IBA instructors in the world, at age 18 as well as winning 10 hours free coaching time with world champion Inka Tiitto.

Well let me tell you a little story about that.

Elise coaching with world champion Inka Tiitto at iFLY Downunder in 2018

Elise Brown - Inka Tiitto

I set the record at the time as the youngest female outdoor skydiver in Australia after completing my first Tandem Skydive at the age of 9 years old. After trying outdoor skydiving the first opportunity I had to visit and fly at an indoor skydiving tunnel was at the age of 12 at iFLY Singapore.

There were three of us kids at the time making our outdoor skydives with special permission from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The minimum age at that time was 14 years old for a Tandem Skydive.

Fast forward and I am now an indoor skydiving instructor and Shane is an outdoor skydive coach, we both ended up pursuing flying. In fact Shane and I are planning on teaming up at the 2018 indoor skydiving championships to form a 2 way dynamic team, who would have thought !

Elise Brown far left and Shane Onis far right

Skydiving kids

It was not until I was 16 that I had the opportunity, and money saved, to start thinking about indoor skydiving. I remember within completing my first hour of tunnel flying, and watching a video of Inka Tiitto fly, I messaged Shane during  math class at school saying “this is what I am going to pursue in life.”

I was inspired by what I was seeing in freestyle tunnel flyers around the world, in particular by the flying of Inka Tiitto.

Leading up to this period I was working part time on weekends in customer service at Sydney Skydivers, the local outdoor skydiving centre in Sydney. Then in early 2016 I saw a job vacancy at iFLY Downunder in Penrith for a customer service position, I applied and was successful. The iFLY Downunder manager Marty Lewis gave an enthusiastic 16 year old a go and I am forever grateful he had the confidence in my customer service abilities.

I was now working weekends and late shifts after school at iFLY Downunder (Sydney),  another step closer to my dreams. What could be better,  life was amazing! I spent the next 2 years working customer service and spending my earnings on flying and training.

2016 day one new job – iFLY customer service, life was amazing

Inka Tiitto ran an online competition asking for video submissions from flyers from around the world, the prize being free coaching time. I did not hold much hope after all I was just a young inexperienced flyer from Australia. I had a lot of love for the sport of indoor skydiving and freestyle flying so what could I possibly lose. I put together a video from the heart expressing my passion for flying and submitted it to Inka.

With two of the three prizes already given out Inka finally announced the 3rd winner, a prize of 10 hours free coaching. I had to re read the announcement three or four times to make sure I was actually seeing my name, Elise Brown, the third and final prize winner. I was in tears, I was a step closer to my goals. 10 hours free coaching from world champion Inka Tiitto.

Just one challenge, now I just had to save the money for the tunnel time!

So as a student working every hour I could with part time work outside school I worked on building up my non existent tunnel budget. You have no idea what impact winning coaching with a world champion flyer had on my motivation and goal setting.

In my video I mentioned some goals. Aside from setting a goal to take part in competition flying I stated that I intended to become an IBA qualified tunnel instructor, big goals for a 17 year old. Little did I understand at the time the hard work that lay ahead or think about the fact that there are only a very small handful of female indoor skydiving instructors around the world.

So with 10 hours coaching as a prize and Inka’s tunnel coaching camp now scheduled for Australia I had a lot of part time work ahead of me to save up for the tunnel time needed.

I still had a problem, I did not want to disappoint Inka in my flying skills. So I invested in another few hours coaching time, and another few hours of my precious tunnel savings, with the local tunnel instructors at iFLY Downunder working on some static head down and basic dynamic skills prior to the coaching camp. Luckily for me iFLY Downunder has some top end instructors on staff who are Australia’s best VFS and dynamic flyers, members of team Focus.

I wanted to be ready for Inka, I didn’t want to disappoint this world champion or waste those precious 10 hours coaching on just learning basic skills, so a few hours coaching later and I had the basics of static head down flying under my belt but still a long way to go.

With my interest being freestyle flying at that time I was not able to perform the middle splits or front splits and I only had 2 months left to get ready to fly with Inka so pushing my training hard I tore both my hamstrings and right hip-flexor during flexibility training.

Freestyle flying – The Splits

We all aspire and watch world champions, the best of the best, but don’t forget your local tunnel coaches and tunnel instructors. These are the professionals who tirelessly coach and train flyers and who inspire us all.  I would not be here now achieving my dreams without the help,  coaching and support from local tunnel coaches and local tunnel instructors who helped me along the way and continue to do so.

Inka’s First Visit

At Inka’s first visit and tunnel coaching camp we managed to fit in 3 hours of the 10 hours coaching and my skills in freestyle got a boost. So much work to do and I felt inspired to push harder after getting a taste of what a world champion freestyle flyer showed me what was possible in the tunnel.

Elise and Inka 2017

My first sponsor iFLY Downunder

So there I was with 3 hours of Inka’s coaching under my belt. After putting in some hard work and further training and showing some passion for the sport I was fortunate enough to gain the support of my local tunnel iFLY Downunder with 2 hours of tunnel time for training towards the 2017 Australian Nationals. I am so grateful that iFLY Downunder saw something in me and gave me some early support . I was now getting double the training time, both the time I was paying for myself as well as the support I was getting from iFLY. This was integral in motivating me to push further with my goals which at the time seemed daunting, but I have always been one to give it a go and commit to my dreams.

Tunnel athletes, as with any competitive sport, can have their share of training injuries so after pushing myself hard with a further 3 hours of training I found myself with a ruptured ATLF in my right ankle, I could barely walk 4 days before the Australian Nationals, the dreams of my first national championships were looking shaky. There was simply no way I was letting an injured ankle a few days prior to the competition get in the way so it was ice packs and physiotherapy all around between training sessions leading up to the 2017 Australian Indoor Skydiving Championships.

Looking back at the nationals I remember hating my body for being injured which was a mental road block before each competition round, not knowing if I’d injure myself more during a routine or if everything would be ok. This was especially true going into the compulsory rounds as it was one of the compulsory moves during training that had caused the ruptured ATFL in the first place.

Icing up before flying at the 2017 National Indoor Skydiving Championships

I managed to place 4th in open Freestyle. Landing the exits out the door were painful as was some of the flying!  I vowed to work harder and do better at the 2018 national championships.

2017 National Indoor Skydiving Championships

2017 National Indoor Skydiving Championships

So with my first national championships done and feeling fairly disappointed at only placing 4th I made the decision to get more competition experience. Shortly after the 2017 Nationals Inka was back and we managed to fit in another couple of hours coaching.

I took a chance and with my dwindling savings, took a deep breath, and I bought a one way plane ticket to Perth to compete in the Western Australian indoor skydiving state championships. So with a backpack and my favourite Klean Kanteen water bottle in tow I travelled the 4,000km to Perth with no return ticket and 60 cents to my name.

It paid off with a silver medal and second place in the open freestyle event. That silver medal was my first ever indoor skydiving medal and tasted so sweet. It was a  feeling of accomplishment to have the opportunity, and flying skills, to be able to compete against my original mentor and coach David Hyndman. A big thank you to Dave as he was the coach and instructor who taught me from my first flight in 2016 and through the remainder of the year in the fundamentals of dynamic flying.

Elise silver medal in open Freestyle pictured with the gold medal winner and early mentor David Hyndman.

The Journey to becoming an IBA Tunnel Instructor

So there was still that “little” goal I had given myself of becoming an IBA qualified indoor skydiving instructor.

As soon as I turned 18 which is the youngest age iFLY will accept instructors for training I applied for the course. Generally every year or so iFLY in Australia run their FITP (Instructor Course) which is a one month full time course. It is a very competitive course to get accepted onto with a lot of applicants nation wide applying, so aside from being successful with the application process there was still one little hurdle, the fitness test.

The fitness test involves a minimum of:

  • 8 Strict Pull ups
  • Level 10 of the 20 meter beep test
  • 20 jump tuck burpees with a push up in under 60 seconds

With the written applications over and being accepted as a potential candidate, I found training for level 10 of the beep test to be a mental challenge. I had a massive road block about the beep test in my head that caused me a lot of grief and tears so it was with a lot of anxiety I turned up for the fitness test. We lost a few candidates early on who failed other aspects of the test during the pull ups or burpees and were told come back and try again in another 2 years for the next course.

During the running of the beep test we lost another candidate who dropped out short of level 10 and while I crossed the line at the end of the level 10 it was a shock when I was told I was a few steps short of the line on that final beep. iFLY set a fitness level requirement for the course and their 100% serious about this. Now as a qualified tunnel instructor I can understand the need for that fitness level to push through the gruelling FITP course.

So how did I continue and pass my FITP course?  I was offered the chance to re run the beep test again in two hours time. So my entire career choice, my dreams, were about to shattered if I did not run the beep test twice in two hours. They say adversity is a motivator and two hours later I passed level 10 of the beep test utterly exhausted.

Let me just say very clearly, I hate the beep test!

The FITP course was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

The course instructor who is the iFLY Downunder Chief Instructor Kurmet Jaadla, in his course opening speech, stated that “if you hate me by the end of this course… that’s ok.” Kurmet is genuinely one of the nicest human beings and an amazingly talented instructor and trainer. Rather than hating him I had the upmost respect for Kurmet by the end of the course.

As physically fit as I am the FITP course challenged and pushed me to my physical and mental limits but I loved every minute of the course and passed. During the course, despite all the physical and mental pain, it created a unique friendship and bond between all of us, we were all going through the same hardships night after night. So the tunnel can remain open during normal business hours the FITP course ran after hours in 2 groups from 9pm-1am and 1:30am-5:30am. Safe to say I am now a permanent night owl!

iFLY Downunder – IBA Instructor Elise Brown

IBA Instructor Elise Brown

So now in March 2018 I find myself working my dream job as an IBA qualified indoor skydiving instructor and living the dream by helping and coaching other flyers.

Fast forward to early 2018 and I am lucky enough that Inka Tiitto had another training camp booked in Australia at iFLY Downunder and thus I completed most of my prize and another 3 hours coaching thanks to Inka and iFLY Downunder’s support for the tunnel time. Again my flying skills received another boost.

If you work hard, have enough passion, and are willing to take the no pain no gain ethos literally, then dreams are possible. I am excited for the upcoming 2018 Australian Open Indoor Skydiving Championships and I hope I can showcase some great flying this year, possibly even inspire others to take up this journey and take part in this amazing sport of indoor skydiving.

I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.

I have a long list of people to thank, flyers, coaches and instructors who inspired me to keep going when things didn’t go to plan or when the going got tough. Thank you to iFLY Downunder for believing in me and taking a chance on me and the ongoing support I get from my fellow instructors, iFLY Downunder crew and management. Particularly, in no specific order, thank you to a few key people who mentored me, believed in me, pushed me, inspired me and gave me opportunities: David Hyndman, Inka Tiitto, Marty Lewis, Izaya Souter and my dad Russell Brown.

Believe in yourself and your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t achieve your goals.

Training in one of my new Tonfly suits below. My supporters and sponsors are  Tonfly, Devika, iFLY Downunder and LVN 

Updated Jan 2019: You can read the follow on from the start of my journey as I travel to Poland to train and then to Bahrain for my first World Cup competition.

Elise Brown is an indoor skydiving instructor and tunnel athlete passionate about health, lifestyle, fitness and the art of freestyle flight. You can fly or coach with Elise at iFLY Downunder in Sydney

You can contact Elise  if you have any questions about the sport of indoor skydiving. Information on booking indoor skydiving in Sydney can be found on the iFLY Downunder website.

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