I N S I G H T / lizzie aac
Officer in the British Army, Air Corps Pilot and skiing enthusiast
Before embarking upon her military career, Lizzie worked as a ski host in Chamonix. Skiing is her passion; it makes her soul smile and what’s more, she’s also really good at it!
During her twenties, the demands of adulthood and social conditioning meant that she felt the pressure to find a ‘proper job’ hence her decision to leave the French Alps and join the British Army.
Currently stationed in the UK, Lizzie has also served in Germany, Kenya and Afghanistan. She is known for making the most of every opportunity that presents itself with her ‘can do’ positive attitude. No wonder she is so loved within our friendship group and I think you’ll love and be inspired by her too!
Lizzie inspires me in so many ways. The military, whether you serve in it or are married to it, can consume your life. If allowed, it can define what you do, when you do it, your attitudes and even who you are as a person. Finding a fine balance between pursuing a career that governs so much of you daily life whilst cultivating your own idea of independence and happiness is no mean feat and yet Lizzie seems to have applied her positive, happy persona to a lifestyle that many (myself included) struggle with.
So what’s her secret? We caught up over wine (one of many of our shared loves in life… which also include writing and mountain biking!) to talk about how she balances her oft all-consuming military career with her personal life. Her laughter is infectious and she even smiled as she waved goodbye, hobbling down my drive not from the consumption of too much vino (unfortunately) but from the injuries (two ruptured ACLs!!!) she sustained during her last skiing trip in which she represented the Army in the Tri-Service downhill championships!
In three words, describe Lizzie?
Easy-going, happy and adventurous.
How would you describe yourself aged 21?
At 21 I had few external pressures and little responsibility in life. I was having a lot of fun reading English and Latin at Bristol University and had an awesome set of housemates and friends. It was during this time that I also discovered ski racing.
I was quite shy and had a lot of growing up to do in order to shake off a tumultuous adolescence. I floated along, applying myself minimally, testing my body's alcohol tolerance and perfected the art chilling out!
With only ten hours of lectures or seminars a week, I never felt taxed by my degree and whilst I genuinely enjoyed what I was studying, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. But back then that didn’t bother me either!
What’s the story behind your story?
After graduation, I didn't exactly throw myself into a career. Heading instead to the mountains where I skied for three years. I did odd jobs each summer and learned to mountain bike and paraglide. I had an amazing time! Alpine life was the best possible context to grow up in and build my confidence. I was a good skier and used to love showing people around the mountain, skiing my favourite spots.
In Chamonix, I met a number of serving and ex-service British Army officers. Hearing stories of their experiences inspired me and for the first time, a 'proper job' sparked my interest. I knew that I didn't want to work in the ski industry for much longer and with unusual foresight, I knew that if I turned 40 and found myself still milling around the Alps, that I would feel unfulfilled. I didn’t want to feel as though I had wasted my life and education.
I spoke to my father and he suggested (as a joke) that I become a helicopter pilot. He too could fly and the idea quickly blossomed into an intention. By the end of that season, I had submitted my application to join the Army and started to undertake the selection tests to become a pilot.
I have had some amazing experiences since walking up the steps at Sandhurst Military Academy. Based in Germany for my first posting I travelled to the US on exercise and deployed to Afghanistan completing my first operational tour.
I was then sent to Kenya to fly a MEDEVAC helicopter, which involves evacuating broken soldiers/casualties to hospital in Nairobi. I was also tasked with clearing animals from the ranges. This entailed driving giraffe, elephants and big cats away from where the soldiers were exercising, usually at sunrise. Any time off was spent exploring Kenya.
Now I'm back over this side of the world again and hope to be here for a few years. I have bought a house in London and for the first time, it's nice to feel as though I have my own anchor, somewhere I can retreat to when needed in order to escape the military.
If you weren’t a pilot you would be…?
Hmmm…a ski bum?! (or a writer/journalist).
What or who inspires you?
My mum, my friends and winter mornings in the mountains.
That feeling when the snow is falling fast and thick and I’m standing at the front the queue for the first lift of the day. There’s a metre of fresh snow up top and I can feel the energy bubbling amongst my friends and me, knowing those first few face-shot turns are imminent, and we are ahead of everyone. Cutting the first tracks…sorry, I’m getting carried away! ;)
What do you do to relax?
I love to stay active and so I feel relaxed when I’m skiing, running or practising yoga. I also unwind chatting to friends, drinking wine, eating nice food, listening to music and sleeping.
When or where are you most happy?
When I’m in the Alps, eating cheese fondue or a proper English Sunday lunch.
Where are your happy places?
My favourite Alpine places have to be Chamonix and Verbier.
Whilst living in Kenya I also loved spending time at Borana Lodge, Laikipia and Mount Kenya.
I pretty happy anywhere in Tuscany too.
DREAMS AND LOVE
Name three things (not people) that you love?
My Mantra skis, my flat in Battersea and bath time.
What are you most proud of?
Becoming a helicopter pilot! It was a long slog and I had to work really hard at it.
What’s your favourite thing about you?
I am quite chilled out and accepting of people. I try to see the best in everyone.
What could you not live without?
What’s your favourite sound?
There are so many to choose from… the rush of an alpine river, the crazy bird noises you get in Africa, the blade-thump of a helicopter and people laughing, especially people close to me.
What are you excited most about right now?
The arrival of spring, the prospect of my flat getting finished as it’s being renovated at the moment (and is taking waaaay too long!) and getting my knees back.
Where do you hope to be ten years from now? What challenges do you think you’ll face along the way?
I hope to be settled down in a happy and fulfilling relationship. I would also love to have a family. I look forward to going on lots of adventures and teaching my kids to be good, happy lovely people (and ninja skiers).
There are lots of challenges to overcome between now and then. More growing up to be done!
What scares you?
The child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! And…the sea, not being able to ski or run, being an outcast or being in a lot of pain.
What’s your darkest moment to date?
During my posting to Kenya, I received a phone call from one of my friends confirming that the helicopter crash in Afghanistan that I had just seen on the news had killed a very close friend of mine. The weeks and months that followed were dark and difficult for many of the people within our friendship group.
What would you consider to be your worst character flaw?
I have to battle laziness constantly!
What would you like to know or understand?
I would like to know how to play the piano and guitar like a boss! I feel so inspired/envious when someone can just sit at a random piano and bosh out a song that gets everyone singing!
I would also, randomly, like to know how starlings decide who is to lead and change direction in massive starling displays. Who is the lead starling and how do they avoid crashing into one another?
What book are you currently reading?
'The Road to Little Dribbling' by Bill Bryson.
I bought this book mainly because it's got a picture of Cuckmere Haven in Sussex on the front cover. It brought up memories of where we went sometimes as kids. My father and grandfather used to take us shrimping at sunrise, we would never actually catch anything but ‘trying’ was half the fun and we’d enjoy a fry-up on the beach afterwards.
YOGA AND WELLBEING
Why do you practice yoga?
Being a helicopter pilot looks (and is) cool but the realities of flying a heavy metal aircraft can take its toll on you physically. Many pilots suffer from back pain and so maintaining flexibility and building strength is key to staving off injury. I took up yoga about a year ago to alleviate pain in my back and found that it no only alleviated the pain but that it also enabled me to ‘de-stress’. I find that it clears my head and I feel amazing from the various physical benefits.
Do you have a favourite asana right now?
My favourite yoga pose has to be Savasana. I love that feeling of everything seeping through your muscles down into the mat after a really good practice. Is it crazy that I also love pigeon pose?!
Is there one that you avoid?
I am still very much a beginner in terms of my yoga practice and so there are lots that I avoid because I simply cannot do them!
What steps do you take to stay healthy when on exercise or tour?
I like to run and cycle and thrive on being active so I take phys kit wherever I go. I also try not to overeat! Army food can be pretty ‘functional’ and portions tend to be man-sized. Whilst my day can involve me being pretty active I have to watch my appetite as I can soon begin to gain weight/become a bit of ‘a chubster’ quickly!
Thank you Lizzie for sharing your inspiring, honest and adventurous insights with the world!
Found this interview inspiring? Have more questions for Lizzie? Know of someone inspiring that you would like to feature within my 'Insights' interviews?
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