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From Slopes to Skies: Meet the 24-year-old who turned adrenaline into a profession

Skier. Skydiver. Stuntwoman. Soldier. Student.

These are the many roles 24-year-old Sophie Grill has taken on. 

Her journey began when she was three years old with her father Josef Rehri, also a skier. On the weekends, the two would go to Dürrnberg in Austria, one of Sophie’s favorite ski resorts, or to Obertauern or Flachau. 

“It was my favorite sport since I was a child. The mountains, the snow. It was always amazing to be in the fresh air,” Sophie said. At 12, she was already enrolled in ski courses that would put her on course to become a professional alpine skier.

Photo: HSV Red Bull Salzburg

Her dream was to become a World Champion, but at nearly twenty years old, the injuries were catching up to her – a broken leg, an injured shoulder, a broken hip, four tears, all in one knee, and a half torn ACL on the other knee. 

“In my brain [I thought] my goal is not for reaching anymore. It was very hard to come back and have physiotherapy. The whole work was insane,” Sophie said about the rehabilitation she underwent. “But I always wanted to be a skier so I tried again and again. I was very excited to reach my goal, but it was very hard.” 

A new focus

That’s when she decided it was time for a break. But a break did not mean the adrenaline was over. Sophie was looking for something spontaneous, something she had never tried before. This change would eventually lead her to enroll in the Austrian Armed Forces (Österreichisches Bundesheer) as a professional skydiver. The military would give her another shot at becoming a pro.

Photo: Philipp Reisinger

Her first attempt at skydiving was a trip with friends. She was going to try out tandem skydiving – a practice where a student is connected to an instructor via a harness. Before the jump, she had already decided she wanted to get her skydiving license. In the end, Sophie jumped out alone as part of her license practice with no instructor attached. 

“I was so scared. But then I didn’t think about anything. I turned off my brain and I was like, ‘Okay, now or never.’ Then I jumped and I felt nothing. Nothing,” she said. 

Freedom is how she describes the instant the helicopter door opens. The moment when she can feel the air on her body and smell it.

Sports soldier

Sophie knew she wanted to live off of her hobby. In 2021, a recently turned 22-year-old Sophie enrolled in the Austrian Armed Forces to compete in military sports through the Austrian Army Sports Association. 

“It’s very nice because they help you live from the sport. They give you the opportunity to train so you have nothing to pay for the sport you love,” she said. 

Members of the Austrian Army Sports Association (Österreichischer Heeressportverband), or HSV, represent their country as professional athletes in international and national competitions – all while receiving financial compensation. 

Sports range from tennis, equestrian, motocross, wrestling, and cross-country skiing. 

Twice a year, athletes have military training, Sophie explained, but throughout most of the year members are competing in World Cups and World Championships. Members also have the chance to make it into the Olympics.

In some European countries, it’s common for athletes to advance their sports careers with support from government entities, such as the military or customs agencies, which provide training facilities and financial assistance. 

The Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, for example, “supports 744 top athletes, […] 19 Paralympic athletes and 40 military athletes,” according to its website. 

More than an athlete

For eight months during the year, Sophie is away from Salzburg, competing in up to sixteen competitions a year – some lasting over two weeks. 

“It’s a full-time job because of the competitions,” she said. 

Skydiving has taken her to competitions in Dubai, Italy and Siberia and she’ll soon be traveling to the United States and Qatar.

Despite this commitment, Sophie still finds time to attend her sports journalism courses at the University of Salzburg. 

Her love for speaking and writing is what led her to pursue journalism on the side. And academia changes up her routine, too.

“I really love to do something next to the sport because it’s not always easy to be a hundred percent athlete,” she added.

Along the way, Sophie has taken on the role of stuntwoman for various television programs as a skier and skydiver. Her most recent role was in “School of Champions”, an Austrian series about an elite ski academy.

And at the end of the day, Sophie still finds time to pursue one last hobby. 

Drawing.

“It’s my hidden talent,” she said. “I really like it because it’s calm. All of the time I’m one hundred percent in concentration in my sport, and I need to be brave, and I need to be sportive, and I need to be in action every time. So, I love to be alone sometimes and listen to soft music and draw.”

Photo: HSV Red Bull Salzburg
Sophie Grill

Born: 22 June 1999 in Hallein, Austria

Greatest Successes: 

5x Skydiving Junior World Champion in 2022

 

Sophie Grill on Instagram

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