Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How I Accidentally Went Skydiving

This is a VERY LONG post and I apologize for its length, but I wanted to share the entire experience, start to finish. Advice at the end.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.”

As I sit here safely at my computer, it’s hard to imagine that less than 24 hours ago I was hurtling through the air at 120 mph. It was a perfect, sunny day to go skydiving!
I just got off the phone with my mother, telling her that I went. I didn’t want her to worry beforehand, but to be able to tell I was alive afterwards. She told me thank you for doing it that way!

How It Started
It was several months ago that I was talking with my friends about going. “Let’s do it!” the adventurous one said. The other said we were nuts to even think about it. She was right! Actuaries sitting in offices with calculators advise insurance companies not to insure such risk-takers because of the risks involved in the sport. I told them I would go if it was OK with Greg. I didn’t consider it an imminent possibility, because of cost, and I didn’t know there was a place you could do it in NC.
So, I was a little surprised, when on May 4th, she sent me a message on facebook saying she had booked the date for May 22nd and they needed to know how many were jumping by the next day for the non-refundable deposit. Well, I said I needed to talk with Greg to make sure it was alright with him. We had talked about it, but contemplation is a lot different than commitment. Then, he walked in the room. I told him what she was doing and we started talking about whether I should go. My stomach had turned upside down. It’s easy to say “I want to do that some day.” I think we’d all admit our bucket lists are pretty long. I love dreaming, and thinking about doing something can be a lot of fun too! Now that it was staring me in the face, I didn’t have that dreamy mentality anymore. I’m not a REAL adrenaline junkie.
“It’s a lot of money” I said. “I don’t know if I feel right about spending it on that” He smiled. We didn’t have to talk about the obvious risk and the possibility of our children growing up motherless. “I don’t know!” I said. I got up and walked into the bathroom to take my makeup off. He sat down at the desk. A couple minutes later he got up and came into the bathroom. “There’s something for you at the computer” he said. I walked over. I almost didn’t have to look. He had typed “I’m in” and sent the message to my friend.

The Waiting
18 days until I would jump out of a perfectly good airplane! That night I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time. I was scared to death! I’m not emotionally expressive. I tend to keep my emotions under a carefully calm exterior. I finally decided I wasn’t going to live in fear the next few weeks. I do believe in the sovereignty of God, and that our days are numbered. I also know our choices affect our future tremendously. God gave us a mind to reason with. I believe strongly that I should carefully consider and usually follow the direction of those in authority in my life. If it had not been OK with Greg, I would not do it, but he had given me the green light.

The Reasoning
I only told a few people about what I planned to do. I didn’t want to cause undue and unnecessary anxiety that could be avoided by waiting ‘til after the jump to tell them. The responses I got were as varied as the people. My pastor’s wife, who is also a good friend, asked me why I was doing it. I didn’t have a really good answer. I said I wasn’t afraid of very many things, but I was honest about my fears. She wisely advised me to only do it if I really wanted to, and not to fall for the psychological gibberish of doing something foolish just to “Overcome your fears.” Later I was talking to her and my pastor. He wants to jump one day. She would never do so. “Is it not tempting God to jump out of a plane?” she said. I had asked myself the same question. He and I said the same thing simultaneously. “It would be tempting God if you were to jump without a parachute!” We all laughed.
I don’t blame anyone for choosing not to do this. One of my friends told me I was being irresponsible to do it. She was right. It is irresponsible, but neither will I live my life and make choices based on my fears of “What could happen.”To some people, this wouldn’t be fun at all. Honestly, the excitement and fear were in a race, and often neck and neck. I often asked myself during the days before “What am I doing?”

What My Kids Said
When I first told my 9 year old daughter Jessica what I was going to do, she said: “Lucky! I want to do it!” Then I told her what the risks were. After that she said “Mom! Why are you dong that!?” I explained to her that our lives are in God’s hands, and if it is our time to die, we will. I said “You’re sitting here in our living room and you think you are safe, but do you want me to explain to you all the ways you could die just sitting here?” Now before you try to tell me that that was a PG13 conversation let me tell you that she said “No” and I didn’t. But I wanted to let her know that life is full of risk every day. Our part is not to live in fear of what might happen, but to trust that God will never leave or forsake us no matter WHAT happens.
I showed my 7 year old son Joshua the web site for Carolina Skydiving and asked If he wanted to do it. He said “No” and I asked how he would feel if I did it. He said “If you want to, you can.”
I didn’t tell my 3 year old daughter Grace that I was going ‘til we went. “Mommy’s going to jump out of an airplane!” - She was cool with that.

The Delay
I had my self all psyched up and ready to do it on May 22nd. It was an overcast, drizzly day, and we kept checking the weather for Jonesville, after a morning of uncertainty, my friend called at noon to check for our 2 O-clock jump and sure enough…aviation said “No flying today.” We had to re-schedule for the following Saturday.
Have you been there? Something you want to do and have behind you; delayed. You were mentally prepared, and ready, but it didn’t happen. Waiting can be agonizing. We did end up having a very nice quality family day though. Sometimes, when things don’t happen on our time, it’s because God has something additional he wants to give us. That day with my family was a sweet gift.

“The Day!”
Saturday, May 29th, 2010 – The day I would do something that I had never done before. A couple days before, I wrote notes to Greg and to my kids with the title “If I Should Die” – though I didn’t plan to, I knew it was a possibility, and I didn’t want to leave them without any final words of love and encouragement they could read again and again. The contents were of course individual expressions of my love, but also to look at everything in life in light of eternity. This life is truly a blink of an eye compared to eternity and God desires that we enjoy it and live into the purpose He designed us for while here on earth. I didn’t tell Greg, but a few minutes before we left, I sent him a facebook message that he would get later telling him where they were.
On the drive there, Greg said “I sure am gonna miss you!” I laughed “Well, I’m not gonna to miss you! I’m going to be with Eva (My baby that was stillborn at 8 months) and Jesus. I’ll be looking forward to you getting there, but I’m not going to miss you!” It’s good now and then, to consider the imminence of death for all of us, a reminder to live in a way that will leave little room for regret with those we love.
We arrived, and I began to fill out the waiver forms with my other two friends that were jumping. There are literally about 30 places you have to initial to show that you are aware of all the ways you could die, and that no one but you is responsible for taking this very dangerous risk. The air was lightened by the video waiver from the equipment company. A very austere man comes on, with a flat, stringy beard about 3 feet long. He tells you that though they do the best they can, there are no perfect airplanes, or parachutes, or instructors. And you COULD DIE.It was about then that Greg asked the receptionist "How far in advance do you have to book a jump?" "Well," she said "If you want to, you could do it today." This is something he's wanted to do for about 20 years. So he began to fill out the paperwork too. "You can still go before me" he said, with a beaming smile. 

The Jump
We got our training. We learned that the most important thing to remember was to arch our backs when we jumped, so the center of gravity would cause us to fall belly first to earth and the parachute would be more likely to deploy cleanly. Then the friend who was going first got suited up. She went up and made her jump. They landed smoothly and she walked back with a glowing report. I was already getting suited up. “I would take off my rings” she said. “It felt like everything, even your shoes were going to come off up there.”
During the 30 second pre-flight interview, Reid, the videographer asked “Is there anything you want to say to anyone?” Wow; possible last words? I said I loved my family and friends and that we needed to be ready for eternity at all times.
I have a tendency to be a bit claustrophobic. The plane ride up was a little trying for me. I have learned to reason and breathe my way through those situations though. There were 6 people in a tiny space tightly bunched together. I sat between Andy, my tandem instructor and Reid, the photographer (we had decided to do pictures and video). Two single jumpers (a man and women in their 50s) sat between us and the tiny doorway.) My seat belt was a ragged belt that I strapped around one of the straps on my harness. Reid, the photographer closed his eyes and almost slept during the flight to 10,000 feet. This was his 7th jump of the day. I looked out the window. I love flying in small planes. The day was stunningly gorgeous; blue skies with fluffy clouds. ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this!’ I thought. There was plenty of time to think on that flight up. I had no thoughts of turning back though. I was ready to jump. I sat back between my feet to get strapped to my tandem instructor. The pilot gave the signal, and the couple by the door opened it, and jumped out one at a time. The blast of air at that altitude was cold compared to the upper 80s at ground level. Reid got out onto the wheel well and held on until Andy put his right foot out and told me to put mine in front of it. “Ready. Set. Arch!” We all jumped at about the same time. I struggled to get my left leg past the door frame, but somehow jumped out with him. Amazingly, with no chute control, Reid was able to free fall right in front of us, facing us, and photograph and video tape us with the cameras strapped to his head.

What Was it Like?
Free-falling at 120 miles per hour for about 40-60 seconds was quite an experience. The thing I noticed most was that my mouth immediately became dry. It was an adrenaline rush, of course. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t have time to think ‘What if the chute malfunctions?’ You could feel the skin on your face rippling with the force of the fall! Pictures later revealed that the skin on my arms and legs was rippling in the same way. It was a freaky, alien-like effect. The fall lasted long enough to enjoy, but the force of the slowing when he opened the chute was sudden, and the straps around my legs pressed into them with the force. It was then that I noticed the ache in my left calf. I had somehow scraped it while exiting from the airplane. I saw the photographer shoot like a rocket toward earth and was terrified for him that his chute wasn’t deploying quickly enough. I asked Andy about it and he said he just deploys it later so he can get there sooner to get shots of the landing.
Then, the floating; a surreal, and dreamy drifting slowly toward the earth. The canopy and canvas that you see while ascending or descending in an airplane, but with nothing in between. It was beautiful. At first, I couldn’t see where we were to land, and was very grateful for the experience and knowledge of my tandem instructor. It was peaceful and magnificent! I never felt unsafe. He let me hold the straps below his hands and pulled down on one side, so we would spin around sort of like a roller coaster. That was fun!
The landing was the thing I was most concerned about. I had heard the impact was as strong as jumping off of a roof, but with tandem jumps, you pull up your legs with your hands under your knees and land on your backsides. My landing was absolutely fine for me. The brakes on the parachute when he pulled both sides down slowed us to a very smooth landing.
 My adventurous friend who had gotten it all started went third. Then Greg jumped last. Every one of us loved it!

Should You Do It?
One of my friends did bruise her back side on landing. The other said it’s an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives. I think that if you want to do it, research it and decide for yourself. I loved it and wouldn’t trade it. The girl who worked there said my calf scrape was a badge of courage. Some people think it is brave, some people think it’s crazy. I agree with both. I would do it again.

Advice on Jumping out of an Airplane
1. Be sure you are ready to meet your Maker (Look here to learn how to be ready).
2. Remove your jewelry and anything else that may be affected by 120 mph wind force.
3. Wear loose, long pants or a jumpsuit. It was a hot day and even with my bruise I don’t regret wearing shorts because of the ride up in the hot, tightly packed little plane. But if I did it again, I would choose a cooler day and wear long pants.
4. Don’t pull your legs up TOO far when you land. (This is probably what caused the bruising on my friend’s backside.)
5. Don’t open your mouth too wide when you first jump. It will take your breath away. Be prepared for a very dry mouth.
6. Even though it costs a good bit extra, save up for pictures and/or video for your first jump. There will never be another first. Don’t forget to smile!
7. Have fun!


KandRsMama said...

Great post! I am so glad you had the chance to do this. It will be a story you can tell your great grandkids!! Go Gorgeous Goddess!!


Victoria said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm schedule to go on May 15th this year!