Q&A With Garmin Athlete Jeff Shapiro
Garmin sponsored athlete Jeff Shapiro is a professional paraglider, hang glider, wingsuit pilot, climber, falcon handler, and all-around adventurer. Montana is home base, but the world is his playground. We caught up with Jeff to ask a few questions before he starts his journey of navigating through the Pyrenees mountains.
Q: You have a very unique background. What drives you to do what you do? Or what motivates you to keep going?
JS: What’s always driven me is the curiosity to explore, learn more and to experience new ways to live and think. Flying and climbing have always allowed me to feel like I’m living in a world where uncertainty is available and has become a way to allow a broad perspective to be found. Interestingly enough, as my life has become less goal oriented and more process oriented, climbing and flying have become a vehicle to see the world and to discover new cultures, meet new people and to see places that I’d never have had the opportunity to experience if I’d not been in the mountains.
Q: How did you get into flying and paragliding?
JS: I started climbing when I was a young teenager and through that community, I was exposed to hang gliding. Birds have always captured my imagination…raptors in particular; their grace and the freedom they represent. As long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with flight. When I had the opportunity [at age 17]to learn to run off a mountain attached to a hang glider, I figured it had to be the best gift I ever could receive. Over the years, that gift grew into other forms of human flight such as paragliding and wing suit BASE jumping. Flight has completely changed my life.
Q: The paragliding and running race through the Pyrenees mountains, X-Pyr, is both physically and mentally demanding. Explain how each of them plays a role in being competitive?
JS: For a race like X-Pyr, being mentally and physically prepared is the only way to responsibly participate. They’re both equally important. I think it’s easy to understand that to try to travel across Spain, through 7 turn-points spanning the entirety of the Pyrenees via foot and paraglider over 9 days, being physically prepared will be necessary but, from other adventures, I’ve learned that moral and mental stability….basically keeping a positive attitude while scared, tired, and uncertain…is far more important. Humor is a tool that can be powerful, and mindfulness allows for the saying – “just take it one step at a time” – to be exactly what I try to do.
Q: How does one train for an event of this caliber?
JS: I trained 6 days a week. My coach laid out a detailed schedule of mostly endurance days in the mountains balanced with rest. Our goal wasn’t to be fast or fit, it was to be able to go all day long and recover every day for 10 days in a row. It was great to have my Fenix 5 record each workout, and then through Garmin Connect, have that data populate my Training Peaks website where my coach could analyze my numbers and adjust my next week’s workouts. Some days would be long hikes or runs with my pack on and lots of vertical gain and others would include running with hill intervals to work on thresholds. Mondays were my only rest day and quickly became one of my favorite days of the week. Also, I meditate daily and try to eat well for recovery and to keep the fuel clean for my mind and body.
Q: What role does your support team play in this race?
JS: I have two good friends on my support team for the event. My official supporter is Dustin Martin. Dustin is one of the best hang glider pilots in the world (holds the world distance record since 2012) and is someone that I’ve traveled and flown with all over the world. He flies paragliders as well, and I trust him implicitly on subjects like risk management and weather analysis. My other teammate and supporter is a friend named Huntley Brockey. Huntley is a very strong competition paraglider pilot and ran a business chartering private airplanes in Montana. His attention to detail, navigation and knowledge of micro meteorology will be priceless. Mostly, I just want the three of us to have fun on this adventure. None of us can do this without the other two so, as a team we will try our best to enjoy working together to hopefully make it to the Mediterranean.
Q: X-Pyr is a dangerous race. How do you stay safe while both running and flying?
JS: One of many things that makes this race unique is the very real risk management involved. Flying a paraglider in the big mountains, with dynamic weather and strategy involving things like landing on exposed ridges, high in the Pyrenees in potential wind and/or storms, carries some very real hazards. I think it’s important to always keep things in perspective and for me, being disciplined about safety is paramount. Coming home safe and being able to enjoy this opportunity for adventure is far more important than any place in any race.
Q: What type of wing will you be flying?
JS: For this race, I’m flying an Ozone Z-Alps paraglider which is a lightweight version of a competition wing that Ozone makes called the Zeno. It’s a revolutionary glider in that it (in my opinion) matches high performance with stability and safety, presented in a lightweight package that I can fold up and run with on my back. It’s an amazing machine!
Q: In your opinion, what does it take to win X-Pyr?
JS: For certain…flying skill and fitness are huge factors for who will win the X-Pyr but, in my opinion, both pale in comparison to experience. The competitors who have the most experience, both in this type of race and in these particular mountains, will have a huge advantage. This is both my first X-Race and, although I’ve flown all over the world, my first time flying in the large majority of the Pyrenees. These are big mountains, and this is a long and complicated course line of close to 600 kilometers. I’ve got a lot to learn and am looking forward to every step of it!
Q: How do your Garmin products help you in a race like this?
JS: Honestly, I don’t think I could do what I do, as safely as I can without Garmin electronics in my kit and on my flight deck. As I mentioned earlier, my Fenix 5 watch was amazing and incredibly helpful during the training phase…and my VIRB cameras allow me to share the adventure but, the inReach Explorer + and my new inReach Mini allow me to stay connected with 100% coverage. When doing something that involves risk in a remote place, this means I can let people know I’ve landed safely or, in case of an emergency, get my location to people who can help. For this specific race and other adventures of its type, the InReach devices allow easy communication to my partners, even if there are miles and miles of mountains separating us. It’s essential and I consider it to be one of the most important parts of my kit.
Q: What made you decide to compete in X-Pyr? What about the race appealed to you?
JS: Being that I’ve devoted more than half my life to both climbing and flying, this race and races like it (X-Alps) seem to combine my love for adventure, exploration, flying and trying to move efficiently in the mountains. In the past – to prepare for climbing expeditions – I’ve participated in a few 50 mile ultra-mountain-marathons. I was always surprised how the competitors brought nothing but camaraderie and not a competitive vibe to the start line. I view this race in a similar way where, we are a group of 35 international athletes who have devoted ourselves to this grand adventure and will all be cheering each other on as we try to cross the Pyrenees. It feels like an opportunity of a lifetime!
Q: When you compete in this race, how will you measure success?
JS: For me, because actually making it all the way to the Mediterranean is going to be such a huge task and is so weather dependent, finishing the race would be incredible but, honestly as long as we’re still moving forward as a team, laughing and trying hard to soak in this experience, it will have been a success. Finishing this race safely, and as a team, better friends than when we started will be a real measure of success. I’m only listing two goals for us…try hard and have fun. If those goals are met, we’ve won!
Q: What are your recommendations for someone looking to get into paragliding?
JS: The beauty of paragliding is that you don’t have to be interested in this type of race or flying to thoroughly enjoy the sport. Whether your dream is just to hike or drive up a mountain and fly back to the valley below in perfectly smooth air or, to use thermals and wind to cover hundreds of miles, to experience flight in a wing that you can fold up and carry on your back is amazing. The best way to get involved is to do your research to find the best instructor in your area, get quality, modern, and safe gear and just like this race, take it one step at a time. It will change your life and I can’t emphasize enough the beauty it can bring – in the views, experiences and certainly with the people and community.
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