Dropping from the stratosphere

Dropping from the stratosphere

OK, I'll admit it, it wasn’t quite as big an achievement as Felix Baumgartner’s incredible space leap the other day.

The Austrian daredevil basically jumped from space to Earth in an amazing piece of footage which made newsreels all over the world.

But my own version of his fall came in Las Vegas when I was in my early 20s.

Apart from tackling blokes like Alesana Tuilagi for a living, it was probably the bravest thing I have ever done.

I had gone to Vegas with some mates of mine for a few beers and a good laugh.

We went to the Stratosphere Hotel where there is a theme-park-type ride that fires you into the air and lets you free-fall back down from 108 stories up.

It's called the Big Shot.

We took a lift up the building and walked the final stretch on the stairs. We were full of the sort of bravado you would expect from myself, another rugby player and two builders from the Bronx in New York.

Boys on tour. Come on – let’s have it!

We looked out over the top when we got there and were laughing and joking about the view that faced us right out across the city.

When our time came, strapped into a harness, we began a terrifying journey - first up - and then down - from a great height.

It scared the life out of us. All of us.

By the time we had returned to where we started, we were white with fear and, funnily enough, the bravado we had shown had rapidly evaporated.

The following year, we went back, determined to repeat our Baumgartner-esque feat of conquering heights.

Our ears popped again as we shot up the lift inside the Stratosphere. I was at the back of the group as we began the final walk up the stairs.

Near the summit, I noticed that none of us had said a single word to each other as we traipsed up to the top.

Moreover, all of us were holding on to the banister as we did so – like it would keep us safe, somehow.

It was pathetic. You could smell the fear.

By that stage, there was no backing out and, I have to admit, that the moment I looked over the edge of the building before my life slipped out through my backside, was probably the most terrifying moment of my life!

It was much worse the second time. Every dodgy feeling I had on the first trip was multiplied tenfold as I flew up and then down. Having done it before, I knew how scary every second of it was. In fact, every second felt like an hour.

We all staggered away and made for the bar for a very stiff - quickly.

We went back to Vegas for a third time the following year too.

And we went nowhere near the Stratosphere Hotel, whatsoever.


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