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It’s a job that sees her travel around the world but instead of attending meetings, Sarah Tanner is on the wings of a plane, defying death with a series of heart-stopping stunts in the skies at speeds of 150mph.
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The 34-year-old, a wingwalker for Breitling Wingwalkers, was in the UAE for the three-day Al Ain Air Championship in December.
She caught up with Sport360 and spoke about how she got into the job, what she loves – and doesn’t love – about being in the skies and her preparations for the role.
Wingwalking is definitely not as famous as other professions, so how did you get into this?
I saw it in an Air Show in the UK as a spectator in the crowd. I was only nine years old at that time and I was taken by surprise of how great wingwalking was. My immediate impressions were what the pilots were doing was simply amazing.
At that time, I loved dancing and wanted to fly so thought it was a perfect mix to be dancing in the air. At first, I thought it wasn’t possible to do as I believed it was the pilot’s daughter on the wing and didn’t think a member of the public could be trained up to do it.
I continued with my studies and went to university. When I was in my early-20s, I saw the Breitling team again in a different Air Show and my boss said, ‘you have the right height and weight, and if you want to do it, why don’t you approach them?’ I did that and they had a vacancy and I’m now fulfilling my fantasy of dancing on the wings.
How long have you been doing this for?
I started in 2006. It’s been nine years and I still really enjoy it. It’s a challenge because it requires hard work. I particularly enjoy visiting other cities around the world especially here in Al Ain. Flying over the desert is such a unique job and it’s great to have competed in the Al Ain Air Championship.
What kind of training does it involve?
We start off in a hangar by just climbing around the aircraft on ground. It’s about learning how to use the harnesses and doing hand stands as well. There’s a lot of training on the hangar and then we do slow flights and gradually the pilots increase the speed. Another aircraft is added to our training so that means we have to get our formation right with the other wingwalker so that takes a lot of time.
How many months or years does it take to reach this level?
Normally a month. What’s important is building up the strength. Before we start training, we recommend the girls do a lot of weights so they get muscles in their arms, shoulders and necks as well as flexibility and strength all round. It’s quite challenging on the wing, as it can reach 150mph in the wind.
One of the girls said it’s like performing gymnastics in a hurricane so it’s quite an intense experience but also quite thrilling. When you see the crowds looking to you, it’s quite exhilarating to perform.
Does the climate have any effect on your preparations?
In Europe, it’s quite cold and we have to wear thermals underneath our flying suits. At times, it rains and that particularly hurts and it’s not really comfortable. Windy weather makes it more challenging so the UAE conditions are perfect.
What makes Breitling Wingwalkers stand out from other teams?
The fact that we have women on the wings. It’s as simple as that. It’s a unique element in that someone is dancing, doing hand stands and flips in front of the crowd in the skies. As well as the pilots demonstrating their skills, I’m performing my gymastic abilities in 100mph wind and it’s pretty awesome.
Don’t you feel scared when you’re in the skies especially at high speeds?
I would describe it as a rollercoaster ride. The opportunity to turn and flip can be daunting but it’s really good fun. We are strapped on properly. The only thing I don’t like is the rain because the droplets sting the face when we are moving. The routines you do are pretty amazing.
Can you tell us how that works?
On the ground, we do a walk-through display which involves conversations with the pilots about what moves to do as specific times. We also practise our moves so that we know what to expect. When flying, I will communicate to my colleague through hand signals when to do the next move and that is the same with pilots as well.
What do your family and friends make of it?
They think it’s really cool. My mum was a little bit apprehensive as she doesn’t like flying but she understands my passion. My dad works in aviation so he was really proud and my friends are amazed by my job because it’s completely different to what they are doing.
What’s your advice for those who would be interested in taking up a job as a wingwalker?
It’s good to have a background in dance and interest in fitness. Keep looking out on the Breitling website for vacancies. It’s very demanding but full of fun. We do around 70 or 80 air shows per year, travelling to different parts of the world. But we do have a team of wingwalkers and we all have a decent break.
The Chicago Bulls got their point guard back, but it was their other backcourt man who continued to stay hot and lead the team to a fifth straight win.
Derrick Rose returned to the court after sitting out three games to a hamstring injury and gave way to fellow guard Jimmy Butler, who scored 32 points and dished 10 assists in a 117-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks as an encore to a record-breaking performance.
In his previous game, Butler edged Michael Jordan’s franchise record for most points in a half (39) by netting 40 after the intermission in a victory against Toronto.
His 20-point first half against Milwaukee meant Butler combined for 60 points on 22-of-30 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 on 3-pointers and 13-of-14 from the free throw line in the past four quarters.
The 26-year-old, who’s averaging a career-high 22.1 points along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists, is in the midst of the best basketball of his career and was described by Rose as “ballin”.
“Jimmy [Butler] had it hot,” Rose said. “I was going to him in the beginning. He got us the lead. We got a great start in the beginning. He’s ballin’ right now, so keep going to him until he doesn’t want the ball anymore.”
While Rose remains the face of the franchise in some respects, Butler has become arguably the more important of the two, as well as the Bulls’ best player. Chicago’s net rating – the difference between offensive and defensive rating (points scored or allowed per 100 possessions) – is a plus-1.2 with Butler on the floor, compared to minus-0.1 when Rose is on the court.
Butler raised his game during Rose’s three-game absence, powering the team to a winning streak. Before getting hurt, Rose was having the best stretch of his season with point totals of 19, 25 and 20 until he missed his first game. Prior to that run, he had scored at least 19 points only five times. In his return versus the Bucks, Rose contributed 16 points on 8-of-17 shooting, along with six assists.
Though he may never return to the MVP level he was at in 2011 before knee surgeries hindered his career, Rose believes he can still find his form.
“It just takes me playing. I know that it’s there,” he said of his ability to get to the basket again.