Inspiring Adventurers #4 Judy Leden

12th Jan 2015

Many years ago I joined a few friends for a beginners paragliding course.  It was a brilliant weekend and, apart from a friend landing astride a barbed wire fence at one point (he now has 3 children so clearly no long term damage was done!), we all survived.  Before the second morning's briefing at the flight school's base we glanced through various flying publications and I came across an article about a lady called Judy Leden.  It's always fascinating when you dip into the world of a new sport and, although I don't remember the exact contents of the article, even at my novice level it was clear Judy was a big noise in the flying world.  I never carried on my flying but, with all these adventure sports intertwined and my continued contact with several friends who are active pilots, I still heard Judy's name mentioned many times over the intervening years.
When I had chance to find out a bit more about Judy's flying career it turned out she certainly is an amazingly accomplished pilot.  Among many other achievements she has won 3 world championship titles (once in paragliding and twice in hang gliding) and 6 British championships, was the first woman (second person) to cross the English Channel in a hang glider, the first person to hang glide from the summit of Cotopaxi (19,600ft) and, while talking of high altitude flying, Judy also achieved the absolute altitude record for hang gliding when she flew from 41,000ft after being dropped from a balloon over Jordan (a record that still stands).  Judy has also used her position and skills to raise a huge amount of money for charity and she has been awarded an MBE and several other notable accolades for her achievements.  
In the end I was delighted to finally get to meet Judy a couple of years ago when she attended a National Governing Body training course I was helping to deliver for Thornbridge Outdoors.  Although some years had passed Judy is still very actively involved in flying through her ownership of a flying school and, although no longer competing, she still flies a lot in her leisure time.  She was attending the leadership course because she was now helping with the Duke of Edinburgh award at her children's school and, although leading groups in this context was new to her, she tackled everything thrown at her with infectious enthusiasm.  We actually had a great group and Judy was a big part of making it as much fun as it was (despite some very character building weather!).  I was also really touched when, at the end of the course, she presented me with a copy of her very enjoyable book 'Flying with Condors'.  Interestingly, just as I felt I was dipping into a new world when I attended the flying course, Judy kindly wrote 'thanks for letting me in to your world' in the front of the book which suggests she had similar feelings.
At the end of the week we all went our separate ways, but when I thought of starting Peak Mountaineering's Inspiring Adventurers series I knew Judy should be included.  I'm absolutely delighted she agreed.  Judy Leden MBE - definitely an adventurer and unquestionably inspirational.  Here are Judy's answers to our usual 5 questions......
Which destination would be your top recommendation for someone looking for an adventure? 
Patagonia and Switzerland come joint second, but for me, seeing the world from 41,000 feet above Jordan is unbeatable.
What would be your top tip for budding adventurers?
Anywhere with birds of prey that come and fly alongside you - eagles in Africa, condors in South America. I would love to thermal up over the Bosphorous in Istanbul with the migrating storks
Can you name someone who has inspired you to lead a life of adventure?
My father schooled me in risk management and staying calm in a crisis - for example he taught me how to swim, then took me canoeing, deliberately turned the boat upside down and I had to get out of the canoe, and swim to the bank.  I was 8 years old, and was allowed to roam freely in a canoe from that point on. 
In adulthood, I have a couple of disabled friends who refuse to be daunted, pushing themselves to unbelievable levels and goals, and that stops me making excuses - what the hell have we, who have fully functioning bodies, got to complain about, and what is stopping us from living life to the full?
Which item wouldn't you leave home without?
My reserve parachute - I have been flying for 35 years and despite all the daft stuff I have done, I haven't used it....... yet.  I like to have it there like a comfy blanket insurance policy as  I hate the thought of having a broken glider and nothing to do on the way down but regret not having a reserve!
What would be your top tip for budding adventurers?
Stop procrastinating and get planning. Take advice and be open to learning lessons that others have acquired before you, but make your own decisions. There are many whose armchair existence is threatened by those who go out and do things - ignore them when they say it is "impossible".
Many thanks Judy.  Peak Mountaineering Inspiring Adventurer #5 coming soon.
Posted by Paul