How Skydiving Changed My Life - Jessica Kniffen
by Jessica Kniffen | A-35942 | Phoenix, Arizona
It all started on Christmas Day in 2002 when my mom gave my dad a gift certificate to make a tandem. Curiosity got the best of my mom and me, and in the summer of 2003, we also made a tandem. I made a second in the spring of 2004, and then in May of 2005, I decided I would do one AFF jump in order to say that I had gone skydiving. (I never felt that a tandem was skydiving.) After my first AFF, I was addicted. In August 2005, I earned my A license and before I knew it, I was at the drop zone every opportunity I had.
Before the jump season started back up in Indiana, the drop zone owner planned a trip to South Padre Island, Texas, to give spring breakers down there the opportunity to make a tandem. I was invited to go and eagerly agreed. While there, I made about 10 tandems (to help drum up business) and worked diligently. After two weeks, we packed up our gear and headed back to Indiana. On the way back, we decided to stop overnight at Skydive San Marcos in Fentress, Texas, to fuel the plane and pack up some items. This decision changed my life forever.
We arrived early in the afternoon, and I met another young skydiver—Kyle Kniffen—who lived on the drop zone. He had earned his B license fueling and loading the plane and maintaining the grounds. Kyle and I hit it off right away. We hung out for most of the afternoon and into the evening. We exchanged phone numbers since I was leaving early in the morning, and we wouldn’t see each other. However, the next morning, the electricity was out, which meant we were unable to fuel the plane and depart. Later that afternoon, when we were finally able to leave, I said my goodbyes, never expecting to see Kyle again. As it turns out, we stayed in touch, and about two months after I got home, I moved out to Skydive San Marcos to become a sport-rig packer. I left Indiana with 55 jumps.
While at San Marcos, I felt like a part of a skydive family. Kyle and I spent every waking moment together. We belonged there, but as winter approached, I decided it was time to move on. I told Kyle that he was welcome to come with me. So, we packed up our cars and drove to Arizona. Although I had only lived in Texas for about nine months, I now had 250 jumps. In December 2006, Kyle asked me to marry him, and on May 11, 2007, we got married in Texas. To ensure that we had a perfect wedding on a budget, our skydive family helped in every way possible: providing the location, DJing the reception and shooting the wedding photos.
Four years later, on March 22, 2011, Kyle was on his way to work when a minivan hit him on his motorcycle. His accident was severe and left him in a coma for five weeks. We were unsure if he’d survive and if he survived what his quality of life would be. At the time, we had a 1-year-old, and I was five months pregnant. When our skydive family in San Marcos heard about the accident, they were quick to reach out. Even though we had been gone for four years, they were there for us. By holding a fundraiser, they helped raise money that allowed me and our son to live near Kyle while he spent three-and-a-half months at a neuro-rehab hospital in Denver. While he was there, struggling to learn to walk and talk again, we received many care packages. As the arrival of our second son neared, we received an outpouring of baby gifts. Even skydivers we didn’t know were quick to send their support and reached out to say, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
As a result of the accident, Kyle’s right arm is paralyzed. We are still unsure whether he’ll ever be able to jump with that limitation, but after the two-year anniversary of his accident, he plans to start doing tunnel time to determine if he can fly stable. He’ll then look into what modifications his rig will need to undergo in order to make jumping possible. On our next trip back to Texas, I’m planning to make my first jump since Kyle’s accident. It’ll be my first jump without him in almost 500 jumps, but I know that he’ll be on the ground to cheer me on (and to critique my landing).
Skydiving changed my life completely. Because of skydiving, I have a husband I love and cherish; two beautiful sons, Dean and Jaxson; and friends and family in a community that has supported us in every life changing event we’ve ever had.