How Skydiving Changed My Life - Reno Soverns

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by Reno Soverns | A-57030 | Vallejo, California

It was, as they say, on my “bucket list.” I was 42 years old, at least 50 pounds overweight, and I’d just ended a 10-year relationship that had been anything but good. I needed some excitement in my life. When I walked onto the drop zone on August 8, 2009, I expected to put a check mark by that item on my list and never return.

The tandem jump was awful for me from the beginning. First, when I weighed in, I found out that I weighed 210 pounds, and I was mortified. On the jump itself, I was disoriented and extremely nauseated under canopy. I said to myself, “I’ll never do that again!” When I got home, I watched my video several times. I looked terrible—so overweight and unhealthy. I decided right then it was time for a change. Then I watched the video one more time, wondering why people chose to jump out of planes over and over again. What was the hook? I was curious, and if I was going to lose weight, I was also going to try another tandem.

One week and one Dramamine® later, I was back at the drop zone. I weighed in and had lost 12 pounds! The Dramamine® helped with the nausea, and my tandem experience was much better. I was also much more aware of my surroundings. I went back the next weekend—and the next and the next. By my fifth tandem, my tandem instructor, Randy Pacheco, asked if I wanted to learn to skydive. I did, but the thought of going alone terrified me—so much so that I made 25 more tandems before beginning AFF.

I started AFF on November 2, 2009. I think many people doubted that the “30-tandem wonder” would get through it. I was so scared on that first jump that I had a hard time following Randy’s hand signals. I almost quit on my second AFF jump, but I was determined to prove everyone wrong. I had to go somewhere that I had never been to, mentally, before I could even make that jump. I had never wanted anything that badly. I knew if I could make that second AFF, I would never be that scared, fat, sad, shy woman again. It was a leap of faith, and I took it.

Then, on AFF jump number six, I had my first cutaway. Pesky tension knot! The experience was empowering. I proved to myself and everyone else that I could handle myself in an emergency situation. I made my seventh jump an hour later.

I soon met Ed Pawlowski, Rob Seaton and Will Whittenburg, who took me under their wings and began coaching me toward my A license. I spent every spare minute at the drop zone, learning to pack on rainy days and doing coach jumps on sunny days. I continued to lose weight by eating right. On December 8, 2009, I earned my A license—four months to the day from my first tandem. It was the most important moment of my life, my biggest accomplishment. I also celebrated losing 50 pounds.

Skydiving has not been easy for me; I’m not a natural. I was very close to quitting between jumps 40 and 70. It was fear of having a malfunction, plain and simple. When the drop zone was weathered out and other jumpers were bummed, I would secretly rejoice. I could still hang out, but I didn’t have to worry about being in the air. I needed to learn to trust myself and my equipment. So I kept powering through it, because every time I landed, I realized that I loved skydiving more than anything, and I couldn’t not do it.

Now, 175 jumps later, I’m still struggling. But now my struggle is remembering the dirt dive when I get in the air! I just turned 43 years young, I have qualified for my B license, and I’ve fallen in love with formation skydiving.

Randy, Ed, Rob and Will continue to coach and mentor me. They are dear friends who always remind me when I owe beer. I am convinced that skydiving not only changed my life—it probably saved it, as well. Now, with a loss of more than 70 pounds, my health has never been better. I am fit, healthy, happy, and I have a wonderful DZ family. I don’t think I found skydiving. I’m pretty sure it found me.

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