I first encountered Ben White as the missing person in the British delegation at the 2014 world championships in the Czech Republic - an empty space of severe news, of hope, of doubt, and of more hope. Jason Southall filled in at the last minute so Revolution Freestyle could exist for the competition, agreeing to a stand against the shittiest of circumstances (and who could you want more to help pick up such impossible pieces?), but the news stayed bad.
The way we communicate now has information flowing by at incredible speed - and often barely registering. So much unrelenting waffle tumbles past it can be easy to forget the technological tools we have at our disposal are a great privilege of the modern world and can serve to aid us - a small community often spread far and wide - in powerful ways. Now and then, something will grow from the mundane to the beautiful - if there is a good enough reason.
Over recent years there have been some notable examples of the skydiving community at large coming to the aid of a broken friend. In the Summer of 2012, a guy called Dan Hunt exited from the Jungfrau, high above the Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland. After mistakenly zooming off over the wrong bit of terrain he spent several days huddled in the fabric of his speed wing as the money was rounded up to pay for the heli time to go and find him. A short while later everyone that donated received a handwritten message of thanks on a picture of the weatherbeaten but relieved-looking fucker climbing out of the craft that ultimately came to his rescue.
Last year Ben White hit the ground too hard and now his legs don’t work any more. So, Ben needed cash, to deal with an endless list of unfathomably expensive domestic pain-in-the-ass things such as getting doorways widened and ramps and a lift and a myriad of other stuff that would never even register as potentially prohibitive until your body no longer does all of the things it did when you got it. A graceful post from Jen Saville - Ben’s girlfriend - about their situation had many concerned parties plotting ways to help. I sat in front of my computer and watched it happen. In a very short time things went from plans to planned, from what, to when, to done. The superb fundraising night at Bodyflight for example is described here
If the pictures of Ben’s X-rays make you feel fragile, they should. They are a very precise reminder of exactly how squishy one’s corporeal being actually is, of irreparable damage so easily done to the human form. I am drawn into memories by that feeling of vulnerability - of the near misses, of the mishaps and minor injuries, of the times that some tiny unknowable factor was the difference between one path through life and another. Accidents don’t happen as much as people on the outside think they do, but they certainly happen sometimes and can be very affecting whether big or small, near to you or far away.
If the pictures of Ben’s X-rays make you feel fragile, they should
From a small lapse in concentration leading to a badly sprained ankle that the best part of a year later likes to remind you of your foolishness with a quick stab of pain, to the triple fatality of three of the best proximity pilots in the world that makes the big wingsuit you just bought loom out of the corner of the room like a vengeful spirit. There are the things that are all too knowable, the ones that make you all shivery to this day when you think about them - a hair’s breadth near miss between two deploying canopies at the end of newbie freefly carnage jump that earned you an angry bruise on your inner thigh from the hackey handle on the other guy’s pilot chute. An overcooked aerial that leaves you foetal and nauseous after watching the video, quickly deleting it lest anyone - including yourself - ever again sees how close you were to going in. Then there are the near misses that nobody ever saw. The slippery patch on an exit point that you were inches away from but never even knew about. A near miss on break-off that everybody missed.
When I think about what has happened to Ben it is so very easy to imagine myself in his place, such are the parallels. Training for an artistic category at the world championships - upgrading your ambition and downsizing your gear - the time and the effort and all the money it is costing made right in your head by the pride you feel wearing the flag and representing old Blighty at the fancy level. This similarity of circumstances is what has me in front of the keyboard, unsure whether sharing words about it has any value to anyone else.
No matter what kind of sexy and dangerous activity jumbles your weasels - when something serious happens within reach we are faced with some level of cognitive dissonance about the inherently risky business that we chase - remember - just for fun. If you have been at it for a while you will likely have played this game many times. If someone gets broken, or even forever gone, what would they want you to do? Should you get out now or carry on as if nothing has happened? Should you dial it back or go hard? If something happened to you what would you want? We can arrive at the other side perhaps not knowing which way up we are. If you walk away are you dishonouring the spirit of what we do and the decisions we make on the way in, when evaluating the risk of our intent?
If someone gets broken, or even forever gone, what would they want you to do?
It is quite possibly the wrong thing to say that I owe Ben a debt of thanks, and yet maybe I do precisely that. My position relative to this situation has made me resolve to be better at what I do, to be wiser, smarter and safer than I have been in the past - and most importantly - where I can, to help others do the same. With my actions I will honour the luxury of my life and pay service to a situation that I have witnessed and do not have to endure myself.
Ben’s legs don’t work any more, but yours probably do. Be sure to have them carry you somewhere awesome.
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