First female Red Lion ready to thrill

ST 20130719 jwndpm

WATCH out for the sixth and last parachutist falling from the sky at this year's National Day Parade (NDP) on Aug 9.

Taking the 3,050m plunge is Third Warrant Officer (3WO) Shirley Ng - the first female Red Lion. She will be making her NDP debut this year.

To be one of the Lions - a perennial crowd favourite at the parade - is "a very happy thing" for the 35-year-old, who longed to fly after watching a Superman movie as a child.

She joined the Singapore Armed Forces in 1998 as a rigger, whose role is to pack parachutes, when she found out that it also gave her the opportunity to skydive. A year later, using the first parachute she packed as a certified rigger, she made her first jump at 305m.

Since then, she has clocked 280 freefall jumps.

A bad landing in 2010 gave her a fractured wrist and put her out of action for six months. But she overcame her injury to be selected last year as a Red Lion, a position filled mostly by commandos.

Being a female Red Lion did not mean she was treated differently by her teammates.

"They've never called me 'sister', they call me 'brother'," she said.

But she admitted that it can be mentally and physically demanding for her 54kg body to handle the 15kg parachute. To make sure she can keep up with the men, she runs 5km twice a week on top of her usual training.

"If the guys want to make 10 jumps a day at training, I have to do it. We're a team," she said.

It has been quite an experience for her parachuting in front of an audience.

"From a distance in the sky I can hear the crowd cheering, the emcee calling our names," said 3WO Ng, recalling last Saturday's NDP rehearsal. "That's when my heart starts beating faster."

As she flew past Singapore's skyline, she saw people waving at her from the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands. But with her mind on her landing, it was only after her feet touched the ground that the roar of the crowd really hit her.

"The first thing I did was to wave and flash a big smile."

mellinjm@sph.com.sg