I don't remember when or even how it all began but as far back as I can remember I have been petrified of heights. Anytime I was subjected to being elevated off the ground, the fear would pump through my veins, making my stomach churn, feeling physically sick not to mention forcing me to sweat profusely. I just absolutely hated heights. But yet I've never felt obliged to face my fear, I always acknowledged my slight defect and simply found a way to work around it.
Until recently, that is.
I was approached by one of our talented "Nightline" producers, Jenna Millman, who wanted to find out if I was available to go to Chamonix in France to work on a very exciting project, "a very cool story" she said, which would culminate with a death-defying stunt that had never been done before. It would involve hanging out with a group of French guys who call themselves Skyliners and the Flying Frenchies.
We've all had that dreadful dream of falling, where you feel as if you're losing control. It is so realistic, so frantic and it's that falling sensation that usually jolts me awake and back to life, accompanied by a sigh of relief. It all stems from that fear of falling with nothing to stop us, nothing to save us, that is one of the most primal and universal human fears. There is even the idea that if you dream it and don't wake up before you hit the ground, you will have died in your sleep. Yet here are these guys who willingly go out and put themselves in that very situation, and they choose to fly time after time.
So if anyone is going to have the answer or help me understand how to face my ultimate fear of heights it's going to be the Flying Frenchies.
Their website describes them as "not only a bunch of friends, sharing the same passion for life, it is also a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a philosophy of living…They have no limits to their ideas, and bring action to their words. Each member has something to bring in. Energy is the key: you need to push hard to achieve your goals. They like to swim against the tide, and combine numerous skills to create multi-faceted stunts: climbing up in the mountains, walking on tight ropes, jumping from cliffs, flying in the sky…" Yeah, I'll say.
As soon as I read their blog I had a couple of thoughts, what a magnificent challenge but mainly I felt I had lost my mind in agreeing to take part in this. But off we went to meet the lads in Chamonix, we had barely been on the ground an hour and we found ourselves dashing up mountains, running around trying to keep with the high octane and extremely energetic Flying Frenchies. It was a little taste of what our next few days had in store for us.
After interviewing them incessantly we discovered that although on the surface they appear to be thrill seeking crazy daredevils and what they do seems off the charts that is not the reality. There is so much more to them. They're spiritual, artistic and most importantly methodical when they're planning their stunt which is perhaps why I agreed to go up in a hot air balloon to watch them perform their stunt thousands of feet up in the air.
I knew they wouldn't put their lives in danger without over thinking and analyzing the whole stunt. So, I trusted them which was the most important point. Trust. I was more excited to be doing something new and extremely challenging for me. I have never ever had the urge to go up in a hot air balloon so this was me pushing myself to what I knew was my limit. There was a sense of euphoria, a great buzz among the team on the day of the stunt, it was infectious. I wanted to be a part of it.
When we finally took off, I vividly remember being terrified but that was mixed in with feelings of excitement and happiness. I remember not being able to let go of the hot air balloon basket. I was holding onto whichever bit I could get my hands on so that I could feel safe and a sense of control. Being up in the air, feeling that sensation of floating was very strange, it was so serene, tranquil, quiet up there, I was having an out of body experience. It was all very surreal until I started thinking about what I was doing and where I was. That's when I panicked and was forced to calm myself down mentally. I had to let go of those thoughts and of the fear of where I was. It was all very exhausting. Needless to say I have never been happier to get back on the ground safe and sound.
So I may have been able to control my fear of heights on the day of the stunt, sadly I was unable to completely conquer it. I still suffer from vertigo and I certainly wouldn't go up in a hot air balloon again even if you paid me.
Watch It Your Way: See the Flying Frenchies Julien and Tancrede's death-defying hot air balloon stunt from all angles:
Julien's walk, facing him as he's walking down the rope:
Julien's walk, from the side, (credit: sebmontaz.com):
Julien's walk, from the opposite balloon:
Julien's walk, from his helmet:
Tancrede's walk, close shot from behind as he's on the rope:
Tancrede's walk, wider shot from behind on the left:
Tancrede's walk, as a wide shot from the side:
Tancrede's walk, as a closer shot from the side (credit: sebmontaz.com):
Or, see their walk from all angles at the same time, here's Julien's:
and here's Tancrede's:
Watch ABC's Lama Hasan's full report on the "Flying Frenchies" on "Nightline Prime," Saturday, March 22 at 9 p.m. ET.