How Skydiving Changed My Life - Mark Perry

 

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by Mark Perry | C-37171 | Naples, Florida

I began this wild and wonderful sport of skydiving like most, by taking a trip to the local DZ on a dare; I experienced the thrill of freefall with a tandem jump. A month later, I made one more tandem and was hooked. My good friend, Angel, and I decided to continue the thrill and step it up a notch by wearing our own rigs. After a year of AFF and accumulating enough jumps, we were skydivers! I felt confident enough in my skydiving skills to invite my wife, Debbie, and son, Nick, to visit the DZ and share in my enthusiasm for the sport. Debbie had no interest in skydiving, but out of her love for me she wanted to be there to support my new hobby. At the end of the day, and after witnessing one of my less glamorous landings, she turned to me and said, “Are you sure this sport is right for you?” I assured her that skydiving is safe and told her that I would get better at my landings with a little more practice. Nick thought that his old man was just going through a phase and the hobby wouldn’t last.

For more than 20 years, Debbie and I enjoyed the sport of scuba diving. We made many dives together, and as opportunities opened up for trips, we would take advantage of them. One such opportunity was a dive trip to the Islands of Palau that I gave Debbie for her birthday. It was the trip of a lifetime and one I hoped she would never forget—living aboard a 106-foot catamaran, boating around the islands, scuba diving, eating and relaxing for a week. I surprised her and Nick with the tickets a month before we were to leave.

  The second day of our trip and the second dive of the day, we were diving in 50 feet of water off Peleliu Island. It was Debbie’s third dive of the trip and she became too distracted taking photos with her new underwater camera to notice that she was low on air. During her ascent, she ran out of air and neglected to make an important safety stop at 20 feet for three minutes. After three days passed, she developed symptoms of decompression sickness. After a month of hyberbaric chamber therapy in Guam, we flew back to the States. Debbie passed away two months after our return.  

Out of concern for Nick, I stopped skydiving. He had just witnessed the death of his mother, and I didn’t want him to worry about his father. Four months had passed when on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the pool, Nick asked me if I wanted to go back to skydiving. I told him he didn’t have to worry about me ever skydiving again. A bewildered look came over his face as he said, “I thought you liked skydiving.” I told him that he was more important to me than my new hobby and I didn’t want him sitting at home thinking that his father might not return. I was surprised at what he said next: “I want you to return to skydiving, but under one condition: that you take me with you.” A lot of thought went into my decision to allow my son to start jumping, and questions such as, “Is he emotionally able to take on such an attention-demanding sport?” were on my mind.

Nick started jumping two weeks later. Several tandem jumps at first, then the AFF course and now with more than 80 jumps he is formation skydiving with his proud father. Nick has not only gained more self-confidence, but respect and love from our new skydiving family. I thank skydiving for bringing me closer to my son than I have ever been before, and I thank everyone at our DZ for making us feel like family. There is nothing sweeter than being in freefall with your son, seeing his smile and knowing you made the right choice.

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