Not many people can claim they could outjump the American daredevil stunt rider Evel Knievel, but Fiona Beale is one of them. A former world champion stunt rider, Fiona has changed tack somewhat and is currently working as a freelance outdoor education instructor in deepest darkest Wales.
The 42-year-old’s life journey has been far from ordinary and despite such a prestigious title, she is one of the friendliest and most down to earth women you may ever meet. She even holds an unbeaten world record for the longest female ramp jump.
The stunt rider’s love for motorbikes started at the tender age of two. “I asked my mum and dad for a motorbike, but they wouldn’t allow me. At three I asked again and wasn’t allowed because my friend had one and it blew up and badly burnt him. So I waited until I was 16 and then I got a motorbike. I was very patient!” Fiona jokes.
She was a natural. Although not a full-time occupation, Fiona rode all over England and Wales, and even did some racing in America. She still takes the opportunity to ride when she can.
But sadly the sport has its fair share of risks and Fiona is well aware of them. During her 15 odd years of riding, she has lost count of how many accidents she’s had and bones she’s broken. In fact the stunt that led to her world record for the longest female ramp jump of 190ft 2″ came at a pretty hefty price. After a 60mph jump over 12 articulated lorries at Donington Park on 14 August 1997, Fiona crashed as she overshot the down ramp and was seriously injured.
“I went too fast. I got the ramp right, just flew over the down ramp and landed on the flat. The shock of the landing snapped the throttle grip and my hand came off, which threw me off the bike. I broke my back in 13 places,” she shares. It was a critical combination of mechanical failure and speed.
The accident saw her homebound for three months. She even had to learn to walk again. “The only reason I was allowed home was because my mom put a bed on the bottom floor,” she says. “I was in and out of X-rays, in between TV interviews to see how I was doing. But I was determined to get better. Determination makes such a difference.”
Fiona enjoys life and knew if she wanted to carry on enjoying it, it was time to pull the plug. “I went back to bikes after the accident, and carried on for a bit. But I was so close to a wheelchair, so I stopped,” Fiona says. She doesn’t regret any of it though.
She’s always been a sports fanatic and was originally planning on becoming a PE teacher. “It’s a natural thing for me, some people think it’s extreme. But it’s something I’ve always done. I used to do free running on the farm, natural things a child would do,” she claims. Now her work as an outdoor education instructor enables her to enjoy a whole host of outdoor activities.
“I canoe, kayak, gorge walk, coasteer, mountain bike and I’ve just starting climbing. I’ve been in the outdoor world for 23-odd years. It’s a natural progression from the motocross endurance racing I used to do,” Fiona shares.
Fiona’s work life is incredibly varied. She works with the outdoor pursuits company Adventure Beyond, and the canoe club Llandyssul Paddlers. She also helps out with school camps and DoE groups and currently works shifts with a children’s care home.
Fiona is a qualified youth worker and has been working with children for about 12 years. She has a real passion for helping people less privileged than herself. “I’m looking for the genie in the bottle in them, to help them open up and achieve greater things in life,” she says. She’s even been toying with the idea of working with children in third world countries, and war and disaster zones.
“I’ve had my chance to shine, so I want to help others shine now, help them feel good about themselves,” Fiona shares. “I try to have fun at my work and I particularly love the team building activities. Having fun at work is so important.”
“I’m a big adventurer and love discovering. I love being outside, I love being with people and nature. It’s my office you see. I’d be absolutely miserable if I was in an office nine-to-five. I have too much energy. I’ve always been active, and I’m always getting up to mischief, good mischief!” she chuckles.
Fiona was recently babysitting her friend’s kids. As you can imagine, she didn’t spend the day inside watching DVDs. No, Fiona took the kids on an adventure. “We had the most mysterious and magical day,” she confides. “We went on a dragon hunt up Pen y Fan and some boys came up to us, asking if we’d seen a dragon. It was so mysterious! So we joined them, asking everyone we saw if they’d seen the dragons. Everyone gave a different answer. The kids were only four and five, and they were really getting into it. We had such fun!”
Fiona’s passion for life is contagious, she makes you feel anything is possible. “I just love life, I love creation and I love helping people achieve their goals. You’ve got to enjoy life, cause you’re only here for a bit,” she says. She does have her quirks though. “I like chewing straws and I like tea red hot. Proper coffee is a must too,” she admits.
Fiona now lives in a quiet village in Wales, and there could be no better place for this outdoors lover. Having grown up on a farm in Derbyshire, she is used to the outdoor way of life. “I love the diversity of Wales, you’ve got the mountains, the rivers, you’ve got everything really. Wales has so much history and culture, it’s a country that’s really held its identity,” she says.
Fiona also loves the slower pace of life in the countryside. “You can hide in Wales quite nicely,” she admits. I agree with her, there are a lot of benefits to living out of the way.
So what’s next on the world champion stunt rider’s to-do list? Two things. The Devizes to Westminster international canoe race – a 125 mile test of skill and stamina – and a trip to Antarctica. Nothing is too challenging for this woman!