Catching up with… Cornelia Mihai

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For Cornelia skydiving and swooping proved to be a love story strong enough to break all limits…

Cornelia during the Swoop Freestyle FAI World Championships 2018
Photo by Trailturtle

Cornelia Mihai almost needs no introduction in the skydiving world. Born in Romania, she started skydiving at the Romanian Airclub almost 18 years ago and from the first skydive until a life-long love story was just a small jump :).

Her new passion took her first in Spain, than Portugal where she found skydiving-related jobs. Eight years ago she moved to Skydive Dubai where she started working as a Tandem instructor and a camera flyer. Having decided to train for canopy piloting she started an amazing journey, inspirational for many of us, in which she broke many barriers competing shoulder-to-shoulder with men. And the story is not over yet!

I was very happy to talk with her and get this interview as I am, along with the entire Romanian skydiving community, incredibly proud of her, of her relentless determination, and of her achievements.

Cornelia, just to start – how many jumps, what type, how long in the sport?

I have around 14,000 jumps (my logbook needs some updating :)) and almost 18 years in the sport:

  • 6000 hop ‘n’ pops
  • 2500 tandems
  • 2500 camera
  • 500 AFF
  • 2500 freefly, belly… including 20ish wingsuit jumps
Cornelia over Skydive Dubai

Which skydiving achievements do you treasure the most?

Cornelia winning medals at the 2017 FAI World Cup, Dubai
Photo by Mark Norman
  • FAI World Cup (Dubai, 2017) – Silver Medal Overall, Gold Medal – team ranking
  • The World Games (Poland, 2017) – Bronze Medal
  • US Nationals (2018 & 2016) – 1st Place
  • World Air Games (Dubai, 2015) – Bronze Medal Overall, Gold Medal in Distance, Bronze Medal in Speed
  • FAI World Championships (Z-hills, 2014) – Bronze Medal
  • Current female distance world record: 176.36 m (South Africa, 2019)
  • Current female speed world record: 2.117 s (South Africa, 2019)
  • Part of the Vertical Elite 2018 attempts at Skydive Chicago (200 way)

How did you end up getting hooked up with this discipline?

I participated at my first canopy piloting competition in 2011 (DIPC 3) and it was by chance (I really wanted to compete in… something… so I choose canopy piloting because it’s an individual sport and I always enjoyed flying my canopy). Once I experienced what a swooping competition was, I fell in love with the community. Even though we were competing against each other, people were very helpful and willing to give advice or warn you about the current weather conditions or if you were doing something that seems dangerous. I’ve never seen anything like this in any of the other disciplines so I felt it’s a community I wanted to belong to. I also loved how challenging it is and how the scores can change even in the last round.

I fell in love with the community”

Training Freestyle, photo by Mohammed Jasim

Were you coached when you started training in CP?

When I decided I will compete at DIPC my manager at the time (Joern Neefe) helped me out with some pointers and once I moved to Dubai in 2012 I was given some advice by Jonathan Tagle (he even let me jump one of his canopies at the time). In 2013 the Skydive Dubai Swoop Team was formed (I was part of it) and I’ve learned a lot from my teammates Patrick Kaye and Billy Sharman.

What’s your training strategy?

I train as much as I can. I was lucky enough to be fully sponsored by Skydive Dubai for 3 years, and training so much then shaped me into the canopy pilot I am today. In my off season (when I don’t have any competitions for a few months) I train a bit less just so I maintain my skills because I also like to learn new things and improve on other parts of skydiving (freeflying and even some wingsuit flying lately), but when I get closer to competition season I focus only on canopy piloting. When I travel to a competition I like to have at least 3 days of training (if it’s a smaller competition) or at least a week if it’s a World Meet.

Did you know Cornelia also has a tunnel VFS team?
Photo by Max Haim

What’s your opinion regarding talent vs work?

I think talent (or someone’s ability to be quite relaxed when learning something) makes things easier at the beginning but I don’t think it can substitute for hard work. If you have talent and you work hard I think you have a pretty good chance to achieve whatever you put your mind to, but one without the other is not enough in my opinion and I think hard work is more important.

Cornelia training in South Africa for the 2019 FAI Canopy Piloting Championships
Photo by Peter Lawson

What makes you perform to the maximum? It can’t be easy to do it competition after competition…

It is not easy to perform to the maximum, I am still searching for the perfect combination of training, mindset and personal life to be able to perform to the maximum in a competition. I wish I could be in complete control of my focus all the time but it’s not always easy. I have my own little routine that I believe helps me to calm myself down before a competition round but I also fail sometimes. The never ending chase of ‘getting in the zone’ is what makes me enjoy competing.

The never ending chase of ‘getting in the zone’ is what makes me enjoy competing”

What do you think of the UPT Mutant harness?

I knew since I saw it in competition thatit is the future in some way so I’ve ordered one early. I started jumping it in 2016 but it requires quite a different technique so at the time I thought I can still be competitive with the normal harness. At the last World Cup in South Africa I decided it’s time to start training it more and I did. The plan was to take it to a competition this month in the USA to try it out but due to the current world situation (Covid19) everyone’s plans are on hold. Hopefully I will be ready when the time comes.

Training while working, because why not? Jumping the Mutant harness
Photo by Javier Ortiz

Tell us about working with Cypres, sending them data

I was very honest with Cypres from the beginning (I told them I keep my Cypres unit off when I am training for swooping because I am afraid of activating it) and they were very understanding. They’ve sent me a data logger a while back and I’ve been sending them data from the last World Championship (that took place at 4,500ft elevation) and also from my Mutant swoops. They are quite impressed with the speed and they are working on a solution for us ….the canopy pilots (the ones with high wing loads and big turns :)).

What was the best-ever moment in competition for you?

The best ever moment… this is a story I will always tell… back in 2013 in Klatovy (at the Pink Open), I was getting better and I had a pretty good distance round. Nicholas Batsch (multiple world record holder at the time) landed just 1.5 m further than I did and the first thing he asked the judges was: “Where did Cornelia land?”. It meant the world to me. More than any medal 😉

Cornelia and Abu Daniil doing a perfectly sincronized Blindman
Photo by Piotrek Bear Paws

How about the worst?

The worst moment in a competition… In 2015 at the DISL (local Dubai league) right before the World Air Games, I was just a few points behind Nicholas Batsch and we only had one round of speed left (speed is my weakest discipline), so I couldn’t conquer my nerves. I’ve visualized so much performing the turn, getting the entry gate that I’ve ignored my normal pre-jump routine and when I needed to perform I did one of the best turns in my life, I had a huge amount of power at the entry gate… then everything went black and white, time slowed down and I flew out of course, taking a zero for the round and loosing the competition. I guess that’s what a brain-lock looks like in swooping…

I guess that’s what a brain lock looks like in swooping…”

You are a strong supporter of keeping canopy piloting competitions mixed. Why?

I am very proud to compete in a discipline that is considered quite hard even by men, so competing side-by-side with them showed me and a lot of other people that women do not need a different category in skydiving. If it would require a lot more strength it would be different but I’ve always tried to rely more on technique than pure muscles. I and the few other women that compete in canopy piloting tend to be an inspiration for the other girls in the sport, so even though I hope that more and more women will get into swooping I am a strong supporter of keeping canopy piloting competitions mixed. I would also like to see that female categories disappear from the other skydiving disciplines as well (classic accuracy or 4-way belly). Come on ladies, you’re good enough! I’ve always said that if it ever comes to a female category in canopy piloting I will continue  to compete in open with the men. It’s true that I hold the current female records but those records are automatically recorded because of the results. I am aiming for the overall records, not just the female ones.

What does a sport, and specifically high performance in a sport, change you?

High performance in a sport gave me a goal, an objective that I want to achieve and made me “keep my eyes” on the goal throughout my career. It gave me drive and discipline and also taught me how to deal with failures because when I’ve trained for an entire year to win and then I messed up one jump by a few centimeters I had to take a deep breath and pull myself together and continue training for the next one 🙂

Perfect CP Accuracy by Cornelia

Cornelia scoring 98 points during one of the accuracy rounds at the World Cup 2017, Dubai

What advice do you have for CP ‘babies’ who want to get really good?

First of all they need to accept that it takes time to become good and it’s also dangerous to rush the process. They should seek as much advice as they can (either getting coaching or even just asking for advice from active competitors) and they shouldn’t wait to get good and then compete. As long as they put safety first they should start competing as soon as possible because they will increase their learning curve and they will also meet other people with similar level and it will help with their frustrations.

It takes time to become good and it’s also dangerous to rush the process”

Nobody knows but I even like to do a belly jump from time to time 🙂
Photo by Chris Stewart

What’s the biggest problem we have in the sport right now?  And what can we do about it?

I think everyone is in a rush to reach a certain level nowadays and due to social media people take unnecessary risks, push their limits or skip some steps just to get ‘the shot’. Also wind tunnels have changed the sport (in a good way) because learning in the tunnel can boost your progress as never before, but there is no tunnel for landing your parachute and I think there is an imbalance between freefall skills and canopy skills. We should definitely educate young skydivers about the importance of canopy courses and adapt the courses to suit this category (the tunnel flyers that get into skydiving, basically the badass flyers that have the freefall skills to attend a world record, suddenly find themselves in a lot of traffic under canopy).

What’s your pet hate? Inside and outside the sport

Inside the sport: people stepping on lines.

Inside and outside the sport: arrogance.

Going for distance during Pink Open 2019, photo by Wolfgang Lienbacher

Favourite place to jump?

Skydive Dubai because it has all the facilities, good weather and quite a unique view, but also Bovec in Slovenia, Moruya in Australia and Klatovy in Czech Republic (because they organize the best swoop comp).

What’s your favorite skydiving moment of all time?

It’s hard to pick because I have quite a few good memories, but following my teammates through the fjords in Norway and flying next to Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) definitely stand out.

Describe yourself in 5 words or less

Professional, driven, hardworking, stubborn, humble.

Cornelia and her teammate Abdulbari Qubaisi enjoying the city life at Skydive Dubai 🙂
Photo by Mark Norman

What’s next for you? What are your future goals?

I’m currently chasing to become an overall World Champion. I’ve won individual gold medals and I’ve won silver and bronze overall medals at World Meets but I want it all. I think I have the skills for a few years now but unfortunately at the last 2 World Meets I’ve messed up one jump. It’s part of the game. I want to keep improving in all aspects of skydiving and also in the wind tunnel and I want to keep feeding my passion for this sport because it makes me happy.

… I want it ALL”

Who are your sponsors?

Cypres, Skydive Dubai, NZAerosports, UPT, Liquidsky Sports, Larsen & Brusgaard

Anything you would like to add?

I am very grateful for waking up in the morning and smiling because I followed my passion.

Night Swoop Freestyle

Night demo Swoop Freestyle Intenational Open – Jeddah 2019
Courtesy of Air Sports Group
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Meet: Andreea Pistea

Andreea started skydiving at 16 years old and the step between hobby and passion was almost immediately made. Nothing changed in the years that passed.

She is a USPA coach, AFF Instructor, Multiple World Record holder in big-ways, former captain of TNT 4-way team and a Romanian Airclub athlete.

Andreea enjoys FS, wingsuiting and freefly. She flyes Sun Path, Aerodyne, Squirrel, Cookie Helmets and Cypres.

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