U.S. Olympic snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Kelly Clark receives a last-minute de-briefing in a fighter jet. Photo by Olivia Giger.
Fallon, Nevada – Olympic halfpipe snowboarding gold medalist Kelly Clark, of West Dover, Vermont, and two-time Olympic alpine skier Stacey Cook, of Mammoth Mountain, Calif., became copilots Tuesday aboard U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets during a visit to Fallon Naval Air Station, near Mammoth Mountain, CA. The hour and a half flights, which hit forces of six G's and topped out at 40,000 feet, were organized by the U.S. Navy as a way for the athletes to share their Olympic experiences with the sailors and families based at Fallon.
"As G forces increase your blood drains from your brain — this can make you pass out — and I had to start firing my muscles in my calves working up to my glutes to keep my blood circulating and air exchanging into my lungs," Kelly Clark said.
Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist for halfpipe snowboarding, won a string of 16 halfpipe events last winter, including the Aspen and Euro X Games.
During the two-day session, the athletes went through a condensed Aviation Physiology and Survival Training, interacted with sailors stationed on the base and spent time with families at the base teen center.
"The intensity of this flight was well beyond what I thought my limit would be. We hit six G's, did huge loops, twists, turns and dove to 500 feet above a road. I train six to seven hours every day, but I was totally exhausted after just an hour and a half of flying. It's amazing what the pilot's body can handle. This flight was the only thing I've ever experience that is above the level of intensity and adrenaline you get in racing downhill," Stacey Cook said.
Cook is a member of the best in the world U.S. women's downhill team finishing the 2012 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season ranked 10th.
In a matter of 10-15 seconds they reached 180 miles an hour and were able to fly by Mammoth Mountain, CA and perform a "carrier break" at the Fallon Naval Air Station tower in addition to other maneuvers.
"Having these two Olympians visit NSAWC was an incredible experience for me and the Sailors under my command. These two remarkable women demonstrate a similar focus and work ethic the Navy demands of its people. It was a real privilege to meet them," said Rear Admiral Mark A. Vance, Commander, Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center.