Growing up in the 1980s, Nagendra Pratap Singh, 46, wanted to be an adventure pilot. But it was only in 2005 that Singh, stumbled upon a paragliding video on YouTube. The pilot performed an eye-catching foot-drag, skimming the surface of a picturesque Swiss lake. That’s when Singh, director, head (retail design, events and central visual merchandising), Raymond Group, seriously started thinking about reviving his dream of learning to fly.
A year later, Singh found the paragliding school, Temple Pilots, in Kamshet, about 90km from Mumbai, where he had his first flight in December 2006. “I took a leap of faith under the strict vigil of chief instructor Avi Malik and sprinted down a 350-foot high cliff in Kamshet. Instead of falling off the cliff to a certain death, I defied gravity…I was soaring. It was a simple top-to-bottom 2-minute flight but it changed my life forever," says Singh.
In the 12 years since, Singh has accumulated 300 flights, in different parts of the world from the Himalayas to Monte Carlo. “It started as a hobby to experience flying but I pushed myself to test my skills and now I have taken to this seriously. I have competed in Asian and world Championships," he adds. Singh holds pilot’s licences for both paragliding and paramotoring. The only difference between the two is that for paramotoring one uses an actual motor that is strapped to the back, in addition to the harness and wing, while paragliding doesn’t use a motor that assists in take-off and landing.
One thought that runs through Singh’s head every time he takes off is Wilbur Wright’s famous words: “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge, skill and will to fly."
Like any adventure sport, paragliding and paramotoring are fraught with risk. A poor landing can cause something as simple as bruises or multiple fractures, while a wing collapse or piloting error could even be fatal. Yet, Singh doesn’t feel nervous or scared. “Adventure sports like piloting trains one’s mind beautifully to react positively in all normal and life-threatening situations, whether in air or on-ground," explains Singh, who has just returned from Thailand after winning a Team Bronze for India in the 10th World Paramotoring Championship.
An important lesson that flying has taught Singh is the virtue of safety first approach in everything he does. “Flying follows the principles of Sigma-8 procedure, which leaves no room for error. Training for such a sport has made me a very careful planner in life and work," he says.
Singh’s work demands extensive travel and long hours, and his choice of adventure sports also requires significant amount of time. Both paramotoring and paragliding need very specific geography and weather conditions that are suited for safe take-off, flight and landing. “Since work takes up most of my week and I need to travel away from Mumbai to fly, I limit my flying to weekends. I drive up to Kamshet early morning and return home late on the same night or if the conditions are great, I fly both on Saturdays and Sundays," he says. On long weekends, Singh gets on to a plane and heads further away. Often his work trips take him to parts of the world that are close to flying sites. On those occasions he extends his trip by a day or two to get in some flying before heading back home. “When it comes to competitions, I have total support of Raymond Group," adds Singh. During the monsoon, when flying isn’t possible, he takes a break and focuses on his fitness through regular gym sessions.
A purpose-driven individual, Singh approaches both his work and flying with equal zeal. No matter how busy work gets, he says, all jobs come with weekly breaks. “There is always time after a tough week to practice some flying on those days off," he says. At times when he is travelling, whether in India or overseas, for work, Singh makes sure he connects with pilots in those cities and figures out flying sites. Once his meetings are done, he logs off and enjoys some airtime.
Singh believes there are amazing rewards in this adventure sport. Seeing life and things from a bird’s- eye view has a lasting impact on one’s perspective, personality and thinking. “Flying has taught me to see the bigger landscapes and goals both at work and in my personal life. It has also taught me to be proactive towards achieving my goals and not just dream about them," he says
Regular training with his paraglider and paramotor—in which you have to continuously assess and monitor conditions, analyse risks and respond to them—have also improved his assessment of risks and safety while at work. “Since I started flying, I have learnt several skills that I now see at play in my professional life too. The value of big goal setting, achieving the impossible, calm composure are some of the many lessons I have learnt as an adventure pilot. These things have become a part of my DNA and help me perform better in my day-to-day tasks at Raymond Group," adds Singh, who feels meeting pilots and flying around the world has also helped him gain a global perspective.
Adrenaline Rush is a series that looks at how professionals use lessons from adventure sports to make their work life more effective. Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.