19 Feb – 25 Feb 17
This week’s #theROYCEproject is extra special because I went to Tokyo, Japan! I didn’t go to Japan specifically to do #theROYCEproject, but because my aunt was participating in the Tokyo Marathon, and I was part of her official support team.
We had a few days to explore Japan before the actual marathon, and I came across the paragliding experience advertisement while I was booking a Mt. Fuji tour for my mom and my aunt. This had been on my bucket list for half a decade, ever since I saw it in the movie The Intouchables. And why wouldn’t it be on everyone’s bucket list? It may be the closest thing human beings could do to have working wings, and the views were sure to be breath-taking, not only because they’re beautiful, but because you’re thousands of feet up in the air with nothing but a parachute and the wind to keep you afloat.
As exciting as this was, the thought of it was also terrifying. I had the craziest fear of heights—of falling, in particular. Even visiting observatories, like those on the Empire State Building and on the CN Tower in Toronto, made my stomach whirl. On top of that, it was my first time in Japan, and I had to rely on public transport to get myself and my grandma, who was accompanying me, to the paragliding school, and it wasn’t exactly an easy route. We had to take a subway, a shinkansen, and an hour-long bus ride to get to it. And when I got there, I would have to go up a mountain, run on a ledge, jump when I get to the edge of it, and let fate decide if I was going to die or if I was going to have the time of my life.
On the day itself, I wasn’t sure how I was feeling. I felt a bit numb from the cold and from exhaustion because of the previous day’s flight and excursions in the Tokyo Marathon Expo. Funnily enough, I was more nervous about the bus ride because my grandma becomes so hostile whenever we get lost abroad. Fortunately, we got to the paragliding school on time, with a lot of help from the locals, who all seemed like they worked at Disneyland because of how friendly they were.
I still wasn’t feeling anything when I got there. My mind was blank on the van ride going to the monorail that would be taking me and my pilot Iwahashi-san up the mountain; it still was on the said monorail ride, except that my mind now went blank because of how beautiful the view was. We made our way up a forest, dried by the frosty winter air. Behind me, I could see Mt. Fuji peeking at me from a wall of clouds, getting smaller and smaller every minute the rickety monorail went up.
Only when I saw the jump-off point did I realize what I was about to do. I was about to jump from a mountain, and I just saw somebody else do it. It all suddenly felt so real and surreal. One of the pilots who was up there before Iwahashi-san and I got there asked me if I was nervous. I nodded, but I also assured him that I was excited. He offered me an encouraging smile and he took my photo. After which, he walked me to the middle of the ledge and briefed me while Iwahasi-san put on our flying gear.
I didn’t really understand what was going on because I couldn’t see behind me. All I could see was that the ledge led to nowhere in particular, except down the mountain. But here’s what happened: Iwahashi-san told me to take a few steps, and I did. Then he told me to keep standing, which was difficult to do because I felt like I was going to be blown off by the wind. And just like that, we were running towards the end of the ledge before being told to jump, lift my knees up, and then sit deeply.
Before you know it, I was flying. I think the only way to describe how it felt was being on the ride Soaring Over the Horizon in Shanghai Disneyland. Everything just looked so beautiful from up there. I also couldn’t process much of what was happening because I was overwhelmed with emotion and joy, pure joy. I actually did it twice, and during the second time, Iwahashi-san pointed out to me that it started snowing. It was my first time seeing snow. At 21 years old, I saw snow for the first time, and I couldn’t think of a better way to experience it.
I couldn’t help but feel emotional after the experience. I started this by disappearing from social media for a week two months ago. Now, I’m jumping off mountains in Japan. If I had known a year ago that I had this much courage, I would have been a year closer to becoming a lawyer, but we all know that that’s not the case. But life is amazing like that. You’re given a virtually infinite number of chances to fix your mistakes, and you have to take advantage of that. Now, more than ever, I know that I’m pushing myself in the right direction.