Portfolios and Parachutes

In just eight years, this Ulster County woman has gone from Olympic hopeful to fashion runways to 29,700 feet dives


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On any given day, 26-year-old Alyona Subbotina can be found walking the runway at international fashion shows or posing in magazine shoots for titles like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, or Marie Claire. But when the makeup and the luxurious wardrobe come off, this vivacious Kazakhstani model heads home to the Hudson Valley, where the real thrill-seeking begins. 

As Subbotina gains attention from top designers for her modeling, she’s also breaking barriers in a skill rare to her trade: skydiving. Now a seasoned jumper frequenting Skydive the Ranch in Gardiner, Subbotina reflects on how her track record for taking risks landed her here in the Hudson Valley. 

What first brought you to the area?
When I was living in Brooklyn in 2014, a friend invited me to go skydiving in Gardiner and I fell in love. I loved how friendly everyone was, and could not stop thinking how beautiful it would be to live here. That same weekend, I ended up sleeping in a tent in the woods near the ranch because I didn’t want to go back home to the city! I officially moved here, outside of New Paltz, last December. 

What’s the best part about skydiving in Gardiner?
The view of the mountains from above is crazy! When jumping in the evening, the sun sets behind the mountains. So you’re underneath your parachute, just watching the beautiful sunset, thinking nothing in life could be more perfect. There’s no place like it. 

Alyona Subbotina is a runway-walking, professionally trained athlete who now seeks thrills in Ulster County.

Photograph by Mikael Shulz

On June 20, you achieved a record for being the first person from Kazakhstan and 14th woman worldwide to skydive from 29,700 feet. What was this like?
When I first got to the place in Tennessee, people were looking at me like I was crazy because they never have girls signing up to do this jump. They put you in everything military-grade, including oxygen. When I jumped, I couldn’t even see the landing point! I felt like I was free-falling forever, but it only lasted 105 seconds. It was scary, but I would repeat it for sure.

You once played for the Kazakhstan Olympic Volleyball team. How did you transition from athlete to model?
I was preparing to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when, about two months before the games, I injured my foot and needed surgery. It was very upsetting for me. But being a professional athlete taught me to be strong in any sort of competition, to be patient and never complain, so I recovered and traveled to Singapore to model, after already having started modeling in my country in 2007. I then traveled to Paris and the designer of Givenchy saw me and wanted me to open his show. So, in 2011, I opened Paris Fashion Week and soon moved to New York. Since then, I have worked for top clients like MAC Cosmetics, Giorgio Armani, and Sephora.

How do you balance your international modeling career living here?
As a model, I don’t have to go to work every day; only two or three times a week. I take a bus into the city for work and it is perfect. But even in the future, if I’m working everyday, I’m still going to manage. It is so worth living here.

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