How Skydiving Changed My Life - Darryld Light

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by Darryld Light | C-37668 | Miami, Florida

After my early experiences with the skydiving community, I would never have thought I’d get to the 100-jump mark. But I recently made my 5,000th jump at Skydive Perris in California. Being such a significant jump, you would think it would have been a big-way or with an exclusive group, but it was not. It was a 3-way with two relatively low-time jumpers: a local jumper with 80 jumps and a guest to Perris with 300 jumps.

My first jump was in 1983. It was a static-line under a round canopy. I went to the DZ alone to try to challenge the anxiety that I was having in unfamiliar situations. (I am not sure whether I was scared of rejection or just intimidated around strangers.) After two jumps, I was in a car accident and didn’t bother to continue.

A couple years later, a friend put a group together to do tandems at Perris, and I stayed with it and went through AFF. After finishing, I entered that lost area between being a student and being an experienced jumper. As a student, I was treated as if I mattered as long as I was paying for the instructors’ time, but when I was not paying for their time, I was politely disregarded.

Every weekend, I would spend both days at the DZ trying to make friends and find people to jump with. Over and over, I was rejected. The load organizers seemed to guard jumps from those who might mess them up. I could not break into this exclusive community. My original fears of being intimidated and getting rejected were realized. I quit jumping.

Years later, I was going through a divorce and was depressed, had very little money and felt lost. With the help of a therapist, I was searching for positive things to push me past my current emotional state of mind.

Around then, a friend’s wife asked me if I would ride to Las Vegas with her husband, Dan. He had to be there by morning for work, and she was worried that he might fall asleep at the wheel. While there, killing a few minutes before breakfast, we played some quarters in a poker machine. I told Dan that my next hand was going to be a royal flush, and it was. It paid $1,500. I hadn’t had that kind of cash in my pocket for a while.

A couple days later, as I was driving home, I saw canopies over Skydive Elsinore in California. I exited the freeway; it was a detour that would start my future. Jim Wallace got me in the air and current for a couple hundred dollars, and I bought a CYPRES for my old Wonderhog container with the balance of my winnings.

The following Saturday, I nervously went back to Skydive Elsinore—I could have been crushed with little effort. The first jumpers I approached were Ron and Dave, who greeted me warmly and led me to the load organizer. I was added to the group, manifested and called to a dirt dive. The dirt dives were just what I needed. They gave me brief blocks of time in which people could start to get to know me. People usually like me, but it takes time, and the dirt dives provided it. The organizers were guides to the skydives, not the guards. After a month of going to the DZ, I started seeing the therapist less and would use the money that I was saving to buy jump tickets. I was motivated to work so I could afford to jump. Life was getting better.

I was slow in my progression, but the organizers were patient. They put me into slots that allowed the skydives to continue if I didn’t make it in. As my skills increased, so did my confidence. After a couple of years, I followed some friends over to Perris. I eventually became a load organizer there and brought my experiences, both negative and positive, to the job. That was more than 10 years ago.

There are still jumpers who think the quality of their jumps is more important than making someone feel welcome, and that is OK—I realize that new jumpers come and go, skydiving is expensive and there are many reasons jumpers wouldn’t want to waste their time with the less-experienced. But for me, those reasons don’t matter. Because of the way I was treated in the beginning, I am passionate about the way I organize and represent the sport now. I helped create an inclusive community at Perris, where I make everyone I touch feel welcome. I have made a lot of friends along the way and have found a place where I can be the best person I can be.

That is exactly why my 5,000th was that 3-way.

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Rohit Janardhanan
Sat, 04/16/2011 - 12:35

Hi Darryld your article was very inspiring.I am from India and am looking for a chance to skydive for the first time n if life permits learn it n become a full fledged sky diver.Would love to hear form you guys at perris.
Regards
Rohit

Diego
Mon, 04/25/2011 - 14:29

Hi Darryld,

i like your story. I think the same things that you have written here! I'm just a student (15 jump) but, one day, i would like to have the possibilities to share the sensations that this "way of life" can make feel.

I've red all but i cannot understand the part when you talk about "the dirt dives". What are they?

Blue skies

William Butler
Tue, 07/19/2011 - 21:33

I read your article and am very glad you came back to skydiving. I would love to jump with you in Perris when I come visit this summer. I just got my "B" License and I'm very excited! So blue skies my friend! I'll be seeing you soon!

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