“Passion is what gets you started. Hope keeps you going. Persistence gets it done”
Mélanie Astles’ story is one of passion, persistence and overcoming the odds. She is a 5-time French Aerobatic Champion and has earned top ten rankings at the World and European aerobatics. In 2016 she became the first female to ever compete at the Red Bull Air Race competitions. Melanie has an unassuming background and has emerged as one of the greatest female pilots in the world, and her unique training for this sport helps her keep her edge. In this interview, Melanie shares her training tips that have helped her get to the highest level in her sport.
FitRX: Hi Melanie! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself currently?
Melanie: My sporting career occupies a huge part of my life, at age 34, I am single, and work as a flight instructor at the prestigious French ENAC (Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile). I have however taken a leave without pay for a few months to compete in each of the Red Bull Air Races this year.
I have always been fascinated by mechanical sports, particularly the speed and excitement, but had never really approached fitness. It was only when I started aerobatics that I realized the importance of a fitness program to reach the higher level in my sport. Today, fitness is a very important and absolutely essential part of my life.
FitRX: You have such a “Cinderella” story from your humble beginning of leaving school at 18 to work at a gas station, and now being a world championship pilot. Can you tell us a little bit about your beginnings? How did you know you wanted to pursue Aerobatics?
Melanie: Even when I’d fly on regular airlines, I felt at home among the clouds and being that high above the ground. My first flight lesson was at the age of 21, believe it or not. It had been a strong desire of mine for a long time, and I had saved heavily in order to get started in what I profoundly believed was my future life. On my first flight lesson, I immediately felt a sensation of freedom and security, an amazing feeling of walking in the sky without any fear. It was while watching other pilots’ aerobatic tricks and techniques that I decided to try it out for myself. Needless to say my very first flight was a revelation, and aerobatics have now become a very important part of my life.
FitRX: That’s so cool – It’s like you knew your passion and purpose from a very young age. And, you became one of the first women to compete in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, which features the world’s best race pilots! You hit speeds of 230 mph while enduring forces of up to 10G while navigating a low-level slalom track marked by 82-foot-high, air-filled pylons. This sounds really intense! What type of training do you do to prepare for this?
Melanie: My training is both physically and mentally intense.
My coach Laurent Segura puts me through rigorous physical training 6 days a week at Genesis Coaching in Grenoble, France.
Piloting preparation is more technically complicated, as I don’t have a plane at the moment. Instead, I have to rely on hiring (renting) planes to allow me to train for a few hours, which is not sufficient. I compensate this technical preparation by flight visualisation exercises on the ground every day.
FitRX: Do you do any other type of workouts or training to prepare for your contests?
Melanie: Mental preparation is also essential. I have a weekly one-hour interview with my coach André Armand, AP Coaching, with email and phone follow ups. As I mentioned above, flight visualization on the ground is very intense, and it is very important to concentrate on that exercise, and to do it as some kind of meditation, isolated and away from people.
FitRX: Your training sounds very disciplined, yet balanced. Do you also have a strict diet you follow?
Melanie: In this sport, it is absolutely essential to respect your body. I have a strict gluten free diet, and I follow a method named after Dr Seignalet. However, when you learn to master and apply your diet, I would not call it strict. When you know the limits of what is good or bad for you, you can take a lot of pleasure in eating the right thing for you, and knowing it helps keep your body healthy. The French have a word for that, “alicament” which is a mix of aliment (food) and medicament (medicine), Food as Medicine.
FitRX: What are your current goals in your sport?
Melanie: An immediate goal of mine is to quickly learn how to perform with smooth and efficient flying. I have started to assess all the work I need to perform at this level. This year I will focus on doing my best, completing the track safely, but improving with every race. Although I am very proud to be the first woman to ever compete in Red Bull Air Race, I would like to fly for the crowds, just as a promising pilot among other promising pilots.
FitRX: Those sound like great goals! When is your next competition?
Melanie: I’m really looking forward to competing in the next Red Bull Air Race in Indianapolis on October 1-2. A few weeks after, pilots who qualify for the championship race will compete out in Las Vegas on October 15-16. All our venues are exciting places, and a bonus for me is the opportunity to travel around the world. This year, I’ve been able to attend races in places like Abu Dhabi, Austria, and Japan.
**For tickets and more information, visit www.redbullairrace.com**
FitRX: Good luck in those races! What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Melanie: The best advice I’ve ever received is probably to “be yourself”, and I think this is exactly what I do. My all-time favorite saying is “who dares wins.” I’m quite a shy girl but I really like to challenge myself by daring to do what many people are afraid of doing. In fact, that is a driving force in my life. Plus, the more I challenge myself the further I go.
FitRX: Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?
Melanie: I have several! One of them, “never ever give up,” dates back to my early childhood, and is anchored in my mind for the rest of my life.
Another one of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, which states, “The only way to do GREAT work is to LOVE what you do.”
I also live by the saying that “it is much more important to be an ‘A’ level in your life than at school.”
More recently, we came up with this great phrase which applies well to my life experience: “Dream on… Smile on…. Smoke on!”
FitRX: Right on! Thank you so much, Melanie, for taking the time to share your story and tips with us. Best wishes in your races this fall!
For more on Melanie: