This article by Leigh Rogers was first published in the Wimmera Mail-Times, October 2011; picture Paul Carracher.
HORSHAM Flying Club member and world record holder Marta Najfeld plans to soar high in the Wimmera skies this summer.
Polish-born Najfeld, 32, has broken three world speed records in a glistening gliding career and holds 21 Polish national speed and distance records.
Now she has her sights set on breaking a women's world speed record right here in the Wimmera.
Najfeld moved to Australia to be with partner Ziggy Kusiak, a doctor in Dimboola, a year ago and feels at home soaring above the Wimmera plains.
"I love it here. I love the area and the town," she said. "I've lived in big cities all my life, dealing with all the traffic but over here it is perfect. "You have something to do in town, you just go, park your car and walk everywhere and after an hour it is all done, it is perfect."
Kusiak is also a glider pilot.
"I'm not as good as Marta," he said. "But we did fly against each other at Benalla in January and I got better."
It was a passion for gliding which brought them together. "We met in Hungary at the Women's World Gliding Championships in 2009. I was there flying for the Polish team and Ziggy was crewing for an Australian girl," Najfeld said.
"Ziggy invited me to come to Australia and I came once, then I came back and I stayed."
Najfeld has travelled the world during her 12-year gliding career.
"I try to fly as often as I can but of course it is dependant on the weather," she said. "There are few places in the world where the conditions for gliding are so good and Australia is one of them."
Najfeld is a commercial pilot, flying both gliders and powered planes.
"It's really hard to explain what flying is like if you don't try it, you just have to go up there and see for yourself," she said. "I enjoy flying both but both are so different. Flying a glider it is so close with nature, you really feel like you are a bird.
"When the sun is shining, there is a lot going on up there."
Najfeld's goal is to continue to improve.
"I've flown a couple of world records in a glider, the first one was by mistake," she said. "I was in Nevada aiming for a Polish national record and I did that so I was happy and celebrating, then somebody called me and said 'have you looked at the world record?'".
"I was 10 kilometres per hour faster than the current world record and I didn't even know. I didn't even know I was able to do it and since then I've flown two more." Najfeld's last world record was for speed over a 100 kilometre triangle, where she recorded a speed of 163 kilometres per hour.
"If the weather gets really good here over summer, it is going to be booming. I think, no I'm sure, it is possible to fly a world record out of here and I can do it. I'll be trying for that," she said.
"That is what I am here for."
Najfeld has had a good season, highlighted by a fourth place finish in the Women's World Gliding Championships in Sweden earlier this year. She said she would now work towards winning the world championship title in France in 2013.
Najfeld and Kusiak are heavily involved with the Horsham Flying Club and want to see more members taking to the skies.
"Horsham was the number one gliding club in Australia in the late 1970s, early 1980s but people are drifting away from it," Kusiak said. "There are not so many young people coming into the club, there are too many other options now."
They hope to see a new generation of pilots come to the club's open day on November 13.
Najfeld said it was the perfect chance to give gliding a go.
"Gliding is so different to any form of flying - it is so exciting and interesting, your learning never ends so it never gets boring," she said.
"Every day is different, every flight is different and you discover different places to fly, not only around the world, but here in Australia.
"You just have to try it. You either get addicted straight away or you say 'that's not for me' but most people get addicted straight away."
Najfeld said gliding was a safe sport. "Sometimes it is safer than driving a car," she said.
Najfeld said the key to becoming a good glider pilot was building experience and knowing your limits.
"I don't push too hard. If I was pushing harder I would have more records," she said. "You have to find a balance, you want to stay safe and enjoy it. Or you just push hard and maybe break all the records but you might be dead tomorrow."
It is the challenge of flying that fuels Najfeld's passion for the sport.
"You're challenging yourself. Flying in a competition you are racing against other people, but being up there is not like car racing where you see all the others. For sometimes for long periods of time you are on your own, just finding your way and hoping you are on the best path and everyone else is slower than you are," she said.
"Sometimes you think you are far away from home and the weather is getting worse and you think 'it's not going to work, I'm not going to complete the task and make it back home'.
"You think about going back home, so you don't land out and spend have a night waiting for crew to retrieve you and I was doing that when I started, but that is not a way to win a competition, you don't give up.
"As long as the sun is shining, you just keep going."