A WOMAN who once weighed just 5st while battling anorexia has told how she bravely turned her life around to become a record-breaking base jumper.
Daniela Dragan embarked on the fight of her life when anorexia took hold, but after overcoming the cruel disease, she is now cheating death in a different way.
The daredevil has reached new heights in recent years, performing death-defying stunts and becoming one of only three women to base-jump on Angel Falls.
The 30-year-old told The Sun how she came out of the “black hole” of her illness to become the fearless person she is today.
Anorexia reared its ugly head after Daniela was sent away to a British boarding school, far from her home in Russia.
She said the move was “super stressful” and she found it “very difficult to fit in” given she didn’t speak English.
Her illness gradually worsened during her studies, to the point that one day, weighing just 5 stone, she could no longer walk.
“I wanted to disappear and for my parents to notice me and see that I wasn’t happy and that I was dying,” she said.
Something had to change, and so Daniela started trying some of the things she had always wanted to do, and skydiving was one of them.
“It was follow my dreams or die,” she said.
Speaking about the sport, she explained: “When I skydive, I have to be in the moment, even if it’s only a minute of freefall that’s enough.
“Your brain isn’t thinking about money, career or calories, that feeling is worth a million.
“I feel calm and for once I don’t have a million thoughts.”
Today, years after her illness, the 30-year-old is unrecognizable from herself.
Last year, she proposed an ambitious and terrifying stunt to her skydiving expert friend, Tim.
The feat would see her hang from material beneath a hot air balloon 10,000 feet in the sky while performing aerial stunts.
It would then release its grip and plunge toward the earth at 120 mph.
Then, if all went well, she would open her parachute and land in a nearby field.
In keeping with his calm and collected character, Tim simply replied, “Yes, sure, let’s do it.”
The logistics of the stunt were far from simple and involved an entire team of people to pull it off.
It took six months of extensive planning and everyone involved had to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Even on the day of the stunt, Daniela said she thought the challenge might have gone too far.
“I was afraid the parachute would come out too soon and get stuck in the balloon and we would all die,” she said.
But the courageous flyer continued despite her worry and ended up achieving something remarkable.
In breathtaking footage, Daniela dances elegantly above the clouds while clinging to two long red silks suspended from a balloon.
She then dramatically drifts away and falls freely through the clouds, out of sight.
Once she landed safely, video quality was the last thing on her mind.
“When I landed, I forgot about the shot,” she said.
“I just couldn’t believe it worked so well, without any injuries.
“It was very difficult because the silks were cold and difficult to hold, especially with the heavy parachute.
“I don’t know how but it worked, after so much training and so many obstacles I couldn’t believe it.”
But the daredevil wasn’t done yet, and before the dust had settled, she was already planning her next great adventure.
Daniela aimed to become the third woman to base jump over Venezuela’s monstrous Angel Falls.
The jump involved many risks and few had ever attempted it.
During her attempt, Daniela ended up landing in the treetops as she couldn’t reach the landing zone.
But she described it as an “incredibly memorable” experience.
“Before the jump was so quiet you could hear a bee going by, I don’t have words to describe it,” she said.
And the natives were so impressed by his courage that they gave him a local gold coin.
Daniela also performed two other spectacular stunts.
In one epic feat, she hung from a hoop above a monstrous waterfall – without a safety mat.
And during the other, she jumped off a cliff, clinging to another jumper with an aerobatics ring attached under her parachute.
She then drags herself around the hoop to perform a routine terribly close to the ground and without a reserve parachute.
Daniela explained how base jumping helped her combat body dysmorphia.
She even said she was “grateful” to have gained weight, as it can be helpful to have a little extra weight to protect yourself after a bad landing – or to insulate yourself from the cold when hiking up ‘at the top of a cliff.
Daniela thinks the key to getting out of a dark situation is to try to change something in your life, whether it’s your job, your relationship or where you live.
She said: “Feeling anorexia is like a deep, dark hole that sucks the life out of you.
“I think it means something is wrong in your life, your job, where you live, or something like that and it needs to change, you can’t keep working where you’re not happy .”
She added: “I never thought I’d get here, I’m so happy.”
- If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, the charity Beat offers support, call the helpline on 0808 801 0677.
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