Cornelia Mihai

Cornelia Mihai on Staying Present even at Great Heights


For the past 17 years, Cornelia Mihai has found her life’s passion, pursuing many different disciplines of skydiving. She stumbled upon skydiving in high school and never thought it would bring her the joy, empowerment, and insight that it has today. Currently, she is a full-time skydiver at Skydive Dubai, a coach, and a Pro Canopy Pilot and competitor. Cornelia has never shied away from an opportunity. She attributes her success to an idea that she lives by every day. She says, “The reason I got here is that I’d rather regret trying than not trying. That is the way I live my life.”

Video of Cornelia at the Red Bull Swoop Masters in 2015 – Video Credit: Red Bull

“The reason I got here is that I’d rather regret trying than not trying. That is the way I live my life.” – Cornelia Mihai

In high school, Cornelia lived in Romania, where skydiving was not a very well-known sport. She discovered skydiving for the first time when she decided to accompany one of her friends who had stumbled upon a random skydiving ad. Cornelia admits that she was not immediately hooked on the experience of skydiving like many other long-time skydivers will say. Yet over time, she found herself going to the drop zone every weekend, even if she wasn’t jumping because she loved the community. The people at the drop zone were the type of people Cornelia wanted to surround herself with because they were like-minded and interesting to her. She explains, “You find people with the same interests and same drives and you get hooked.” 

“You find people with the same interests and same drives and you get hooked.” – Cornelia Mihai

After Cornelia started to be more intrigued by the art of skydiving, aside from loving the community it provided, she explains that it became pretty addictive, like many extreme sports. Once she became a skydiving instructor, she realized that she wanted more out of the sport and was interested in competing. There were very few competitions held near her in Romania, but the few that occurred, Cornelia made sure to attend. Eventually, she went to a competition in Dubai, her current home in 2020, where she stumbled upon Canopy Piloting for the first time. Since the main events were focused on team diving and she was a solo flyer, she decided to try Canopy Flying out as it was one of the few solo divisions that she had some applicable skills. She immediately fell in love with the discipline. 

“You are pushing the limits. It’s a very fine line between the perfect swoop and hurting yourself really badly.” – Cornelia Mihai

Pictured: Cornelia at her first ever competition in 2011 – Photo by: Mike Burdon

Canopy piloting, often referred to as swooping, is known for being one of the most dangerous forms of skydiving. While Cornelia was not fully aware of this fact at her first swooping competition in 2011, she was impressed by the sense of a supportive community despite the competitive spirit among the canopy pilots. This peer reinforcement stemmed from the dangerous nature of the sport. Even in competitions, fellow canopy pilots would warn each other about different wind conditions or give advice to fix minor mistakes in their peers’ technique. It is considered the riskiest discipline because the diver is generating the most power and speed of their journey when they are closest to the ground. Cornelia explains, “You are pushing the limits. It’s a very fine line between the perfect swoop and hurting yourself really badly.” In competitions, canopy pilots are judged on 3 main categories: distance, speed, and accuracy. Cornelia discusses the importance of finding a balance between the three in order to become the most skilled and safest canopy pilot in competition. Ever since that first swooping competition in 2011, Cornelia has been driven to constantly grow and fine-tune her craft to push the limits with her canopy piloting career. 

“If you keep the motivation to continue learning, you will always find something new to learn… It’s up to you to keep learning.” – Cornelia Mihai

Pictured: Cornelia in her happy place – Photo by: Javier Buzz Ortiz

Many times in our conversation, Cornelia discusses how happy she is with her decision to pursue skydiving and coaching as her career. Even from a young age, she knew that she did not want an ordinary job. While she recognizes that people find passion in a range of industries, including corporate jobs, Cornelia has always had a hunger for more excitement and has truly gained insight through her skydiving career that she would not have found elsewhere. For Cornelia, skydiving serves as an outlet to constantly learn and challenge herself to improve every day. Whether she is learning new skills, like becoming a rigger (during the drop zone slow-down caused by the pandemic), trying different canopy piloting techniques, or pushing her students to embrace the lessons they can learn through skydiving, Cornelia always finds a way to keep herself invested in her work. She explains how she keeps herself and her students motivated. She says, “If you keep the motivation to keep learning, you will always find something new to learn… It’s up to you to keep learning.” This is great advice for all people in their different hobbies and passions. It is important to maintain the excitement and naive thrill that comes with practicing something you love. 

Another key lesson that Cornelia has learned from skydiving is the impact of her mindset switch to live in the moment. She explains how this insight stems from the life-changing feeling of making that jump. She says “It’s adrenaline. We’ve all got adrenaline. You’re living in the moment. You cannot think about other stuff. You’re scared. Your body is sort of in shock and its focusing on survival. We are focusing on what is at hand. This can be anything, but I think that’s what we are all looking for. Some call it freedom, but it’s actually just quiet inside.” After a while, Cornelia says that a skydiver gets used to this feeling of intense adrenaline, but the lesson they learned from that first thrilling jump never goes away. This philosophy of truly living in the moment has lead Cornelia through her life seizing every opportunity that life presents. She knows that not every day is promised so people must take advantage of every day to really spend their time doing what they love and are passionate about. We should all consider this wisdom that Cornelia presented in our conversation and really live each day to its fullest capacity, aiming to leave positive impacts on the world and the people around us every day. 

Pictured: Cornelia at the Pink Open Canopy Piloting Competition – Photo by: Wolfgang Leinbacher

Thank you, Cornelia, for sharing your journey and wisdom! If you want to learn more about what she is doing in her Professional Canopy Piloting career and other adventures, check out her Instagram linked below. 

https://www.instagram.com/cornelia_mihai


Written by: Anna Rice & Jason Crowe
Interview by: Jason Crowe

Cover Photo: Cornelia at 2017 World Cup – Photo Credit: Mark Norman