How Skydiving Changed My Life - Ted Atkins
by Ted Atkins | A-73783 | Notts, United Kingdom
“Tell me that again? Your first jump was from 29,000 feet?” Yes. It's a bit of a story...
I am almost the reluctant skydiver. For years, the Everest Skydive Team asked me to make their skydiving oxygen systems, and for years I said, “No.” The team asked me to do it because I make the oxygen systems that climbers use on Mt. Everest, but I was not prepared for the amount of research and development required in making oxygen systems for skydiving use. However, when the venture’s owner called me again at my home in France to tell me he had bought me a ticket to Kathmandu (one of my favourite places) to meet the team of Wendy Smith, Derek Thomas, Ryan Jackson and Tom Noonan, I surrendered.
I designed the Everest climbing mask while actually climbing Everest, and I was the first to use it, so when I had dinner in Kathmandu with Wendy, I explained that the only way I could understand their issues and support their project was if I jumped. When she explained that the team hoped I would do this, I realized I had met my kind of people: serious. As an ex-Royal Air Force engineer, this was my dream job … every engineer’s dream job. I could use what we call “blue-skies thinking,” ideas without restraint.
The plan was that I would watch how the skydiving operations and systems worked, then maybe toward the end of the expedition introduce my oxygen system, called Topout. (In mountaineering language, to “top out” means to reach your goal, to summit, to succeed.) So I watched, I listened and I built. Eventually, Ryan came into the ops room and declared that we would jump with the Topout mask on the next lift. As a tandem instructor and doctor, this was his call. I prepared the gear, and we headed for the Porter and a life-changing experience for me.
Was I unnerved sitting in that doorway at 29,000 feet? A little. I looked at the summit of Everest—the highest point on our planet—where I had previously stood wearing the mountaineering prototype of the same oxygen system … another life-changing experience.
I have a photo of my landing, and this picture does paint a thousand words. The smile on my face says it all. Soon, this reluctant jumper jumped again with Ryan and then with Tom while tuning the system to perfection... but I was no longer reluctant.
After that first jump in 2011, the Everest Skydive team used the Topout system on all subsequent jumps. Ryan and I became business partners in Topout Aero, and the next month we put the Red Bull team out the door at 33,000 feet over Mont Blanc in the French Alps. Tom and I also became business partners in Topout North America. By now I was in deep. Derek decided that I had to earn my license … no more tandems for me. So I went to Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida for my AFF course last spring and completed my A license at Skydive DeLand in Florida in February.
We say that every man has his Everest. No boundaries: farther, faster, longer, higher. We want to dream, and then achieve the dream. I love the moments after the Everest season when I meet those climbers who realized their dreams. To be a part of someone’s dream is a real privilege, and I see this every year now with Everest Skydive when I watch the incredulous, happy faces come in from a skydive that my own team won’t let me make on my own... yet.
I did not think that anything could surpass those moments I spent on the top of the world. But now I know there is no limit to amazement; the only limit is your courage and imagination.
I didn't come to skydiving to make money (who does?); I came because the people I met were so amazing. Too many fine people to mention helped skydiving change my life. How? With 30 jumps to my credit, I am a skydiving professional (sort of), but I am no longer reluctant!