Nicole Smith Ludvik, the stuntwoman and professional skydiver from the United States, took over the internet in 2021 when the video of her advertisement for Emirates, with her stood at the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, went viral.
Since the initial viral video, Nicole has gone on to star in another campaign promoting Expo 2020 Dubai, once again on top of the Burj Khalifa, as an Emirates Airbus A380 with the Expo livery and her photo on the side, flying behind her.
Over the years, Nicole has had a successful and varied career, she became a yoga instructor, a professional skydiver, a social media star and a stuntwoman, that took her all the way to the top of the Burj Khalifa.
Nicole is also the youngest person to skydive from all 50 states in the United States and has drawn her strength and overcome adversity from her past experience.
At the age of 25, Nicole lost her husband and after soul searching, found a passion for skydiving. She later got into a terrible car accident, which left her unable to walk.
Since the accident, Nicole has made a full recovery and is now a beacon of hope to many, to stay true to their dreams and to go after them, even when it may be difficult.
In an exclusive conversation with Connector, Nicole took the time to talk about her hardships on the road to recovery from her accident, to the moment she stood proudly on top of the Burj Khalifa.
How hard was the process of recovery after your accident and how long did it take to get back to skydiving again?
I sustained a broken neck, back, tailbone, punctured lung, two broken ribs, four pelvic fractures, and two brain injuries. The doctors prepared my family for the worst. Even if I made it, my parents were told my brain injuries could limit my cognitive abilities, and hip fractures could severely affect my walking ability. I was in excruciating physical and emotional pain.
I had a long, harrowing road of recovery ahead. Once I was released from the hospital, I moved in with my parents because I could not take care of myself. I went to physical therapy several times a week and learned to walk again. Finally, after nearly a year of agonising physical therapy, I made a full recovery and returned to the sky.
After beating all the odds and recovering, what motivated you to get back into skydiving after all the emotional trauma faced?
I realised early in my recovery if I did not change my perspective of what happened, the car accident would destroy me. I found gratitude for things I had never even considered before, like the ability to breathe. Pain became my guide to how far I could push myself. I found success in every slight improvement.
I set a goal to skydive all 50 United States once my orthopedists gave me the go ahead. The goal to skydive again gave me something to focus on and work towards; it was the light at the end of my tunnel.
How did you get involved in the Emirates advert and how did it feel getting the call?
Initially, Emirates put out a casting call to their flight attendants. But, after careful consideration, Emirates reached out to Prime Productions, a film production, and stunt management company, to cast a professional for the stunt. My husband David and I have worked with Alan Gayton, Owner of Prime Productions, on several past projects. Alan reached out to me about this opportunity and asked me to submit a casting video. Ultimately, Emirates selected me to do the stunt.
As you scaled the tallest building in the world, what was going on in your mind and how did you manage to overcome your fear in that situation?
The climb to the top of the Burj Khalifa is 200 metres up a tiny ladder inside a very narrow space. The ladder rungs resemble less of a ladder you would use in your home and more like the rungs you see on the side of a telephone pole. The climb takes a lot of mental and physical endurance. One thing I thought about was taking my time so I did not sweat my makeup off or mess up my hair. I was very aware of my pace and made sure I took the breaks I needed. I was also thinking about where I was going for a cookie after I finished.
The altitude of the pinnacle of the Burj Khalifa is a familiar landscape. I have been a professional skydiver for a long time and have spent countless hours at that height. The difference is when I am skydiving; I am in an aircraft with a parachute on my back instead of standing atop of the world's tallest building.
I was confident with the planning, safety and risk assessments. I trusted my team, and I was sure that everything was being executed as planned, which helped mitigate any fear of the unknown.
Once I got to the top of the Burj Khalifa, it was one of the most spectacular sights ever. I was so excited. My heart started beating fast, and I could feel myself breathing faster - an anxiety response to something unfamiliar. But I am trained to deal with these emotions and teach others how to do the same in skydiving. So, I recognised the feeling, went through my mental checklist, and continued with the stunt.
Did you know that there was going to be a second time to be featured in the second Burj Khalifa advert and if not how did you feel getting the call?
The first advertisement exceeded everyone's expectations, and I was so happy that Emirates followed it up with something bigger and bolder than the first one. Who would have thought it was possible?
When I saw the storyboard, I was speechless. I mean, only a few people can say they have been to the top of the world's tallest building. But, how many people can say they have their face on five aeroplanes? How many people can say they have stood on top of the world's tallest building while a plane with their face painted on it flies around them?
I felt like I was dreaming. The best way I can describe how I felt - It was like every Christmas morning ever rolled into one.