sports

Rhiannan is 25 years old. And she just became a world cliff diving champion.

“I’m never not frightened, to be honest,” Rhiannan Iffland admitted when I asked her about how she overcame the fear of her job.

I asked her this because Rhiannan’s job is far from normal.

Rhiannan is 25 years old. She’s from the Lake Macquarie district in New South Wales. She loved trampolining and diving growing up. She was an adventurous child, but as far as kids go, Rhiannan had a regular upbringing.

Today, Rhiannan is a professional cliff diver.

For the uninitiated, cliff diving is – as the name suggests – a competitive sport involving diving off extremely high cliffs into water.

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Rhiannan Iffland diving. Source: Red Bull.

Unlike other extreme sports, there are no harnesses. No special equipment or clothing. It's just you, a cliff and a body of water below you.

Last week, Rhiannan became the 2016 Red Bull World Cliff Diving Champion in her debut season.

"You're looking down and thinking, 'oh goodness, what am I doing? Why am I standing up here 20 metres above the water?'

"It does get easier to control those nerves, and definitely with each competition I learn to deal with it a little bit better, but it never gets any less scary; I always have those thoughts in the back of my head."

Rhiannan spent her school years as a trampolinist and diver. Then, three years ago while working on a cruise ship, she heard about cliff diving.

The interest, she says, was instantaneous and she's been in love with the sport since 2012.

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Rhiannan Iffland after a 20.5 metre dive in Dubai. Source: Red Bull.

"They said that with my trampoline skills and diving skills, this could be something I would really enjoy. So ever since then it was a goal to be up there," she said.

"And now here we are."

In addition to strength and conditioning, Rhiannan says training consists of "repeating a lot of ten-metre dives".

The theory is that when it comes time to drop 20 metres, your body will take over and know what to do.

But what I really want to know is what Rhiannan's parents think of it all. How did they react to the news their daughter was planning to dive off cliffs unaided?

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Rhiannan Iffland diving 20.5 metres. Source: Red Bull.
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"They weren't fully convinced to start with," she said.

"But once I started to do competitions they were my biggest fans and they loved every minute of it. They were there by my side for a few competitions and, of course, it's scary for them... but they're very happy I'm following my dreams and doing what I love."

Despite being supportive, Rhiannan's parents are very aware of the risk.

"But I've been training for a lot of years and in this kind of sport you just have to trust yourself and give it 100 per cent, because a 50 per cent effort might turn out really bad."

That realisation is actually one that helps.

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Iffland says the camaraderie amongst female cliff divers keeps her inspired. Source: Red Bull.

"Look, it doesn't really get less scary, I've got to be honest about that.

"But each time you do step out onto the platform you find a way to overcome that fear. I know for myself there's a little voice inside my head telling me everything's going to be okay," she said.

"I just think about why I climbed up there in the first place and tell myself why I'm here doing this. And once you've completed the dive, it's the most amazing feeling."

Rhiannan's advice for other aspiring sportswomen out there?

"If you have a dream and you believe in it, go for it. You've got to go for it."

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