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A different view of the world

A different view of the world

Words: Melanie Ho

The first woman to fly solo around the world in a helicopter competes in RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009.


Jennifer Murray (United Kingdom) will be back. She was back today for Stage 5: Out of Africa, climbing the dunes of the Namib Desert and she will be back, next year or sometime in the near future to complete a RacingThePlanet event.


Murray, 68, had completed the first three stages of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 but on the arduous Stage 4, Murray, who had been suffering from nausea and unable to eat much, decided to formally pull out of the competition at the second checkpoint of the 100-km stage. But the helicopter pilot doesn’t give up and said she had unfinished business to take care of.


Murray is probably most well-known for her aviation accomplishments. Though she started flying only at age 54, Murray has set records and, in her words, seen the world in a way no one else has. In 1997 she became the first woman to fly a helicopter around the world, east to west, and then she repeated the feat, this time solo, in 2000. She has also flown, with a co-pilot, from south to north in 2006.


She decided to compete in her first RacingThePlanet event after promising her family she wouldn’t attempt any more aviation challenges.


“I was looking for a challenge and then one day I had hiked in Hong Kong, had a great dinner, a bottle of wine and registered on the website for the race,” Murray said.


Before the race even started, Murray was greeted with a round of applause, not only for her record-setting feats but also because she is the oldest woman in the field. Her struggle on the course stemmed in part from the nine hours she spent in the Fish River Canyon during Stage 1.


“I was just spent,” Murray said on why she withdrew. “And then I went to see the medics and they gave me two pills and now I can eat and it looks a lot better. I’m not into failure, so it’s looking like I’ll have to do another one. I’ll just have to make sure it’s the least difficult one of them.”


Murray started flying after her husband bought a helicopter and told her to learn how to fly because he didn’t have the time. Eventually he too earned his license but by then, Murray had heard that no woman had ever flown around the world. She stepped up to the challenge. There wasn’t a lot of faith in her with even her helicopter manufacturer giving her a one in five chance of making it.


Murray made it and then decided to give it another go in 2000, this time alone.


“No one has seen the world like me. I’ve seen all the deserts in the world and I tell you, they’re better in a helicopter,” said Murray, laughing. “When I was in these places all by myself, I had this tingle that no one else has been here. I was just on my own. It’s like being a bird.”


For Murray, RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 was a big test, one that showed her that there is such a thing as a disappointment.


“We all came here believing that we’d do it,” Murray said.


On the first slope of Wednesday’s Stage 4, Murray knew she would be in trouble. At the second checkpoint, she was able to have a can of Coke which she sipped and made her feel better, but still she was unable to continue the race.


But second time seems to be the charm for Murray, who took two attempts to cross the world from the South Pole to the North. On the first attempt, she and her co-pilot crashed in Antarctica during a blizzard. Three years after the crash, Murray made the successful journey, but not before stopping in front of her old crash site.


“That was hugely emotional,” Murray said. “That’s one of the moments I remember most about that journey.”

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