How Skydiving Changed My Life - Wendy Helton

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by Wendy Helton | B-38074 | Mount Pleasant, North Carolina

The year 2011 found me struggling with the effects of my recent divorce. I was floundering like a fish out of water, just gasping for that last breath of air. Sadly, there were moments when I wondered if life was even worth still living.

Many told me that I needed a fresh start, so I moved from my home in Greenville, South Carolina, to stay with family for a while in Arlington, Virginia. While there, I heard the usual supportive quotes almost daily: “Things will get better, Wendy.” “When one door closes, another one opens.” And, of course, “When you stop looking for it …” Yeah, right. Like it would be that easy to move on and find purpose in life again. Little did I know how right they were or how a spontaneous trip back to South Carolina would change my life.

Memorial Day weekend came and I had nothing to do but to feel sorry for myself, so I decided to take a road trip to visit a friend in Greenville. The Friday night drive was a long one, but it felt good to be doing something out of the norm. I woke up on Saturday, May 28, to a dismal, rainy morning that at first appeared would amount to nothing more than a lazy day of TV. Luckily, my friend had Saturday plans for us, and based on the excited energy my friend exuded, I had a feeling that the plans were something big. After a few hours of driving and me asking, “Where are we going?” about 50 times, we arrived at our destination. With the rain on the windshield and the fog in the air, I wasn’t sure that I was reading the sign correctly. It was only as we pulled down the driveway and I spotted the runways of a small airport that I knew I had. Skydive Carolina. I was about to do something that I had only dreamed of. Life was looking better by the second.

My friend and I checked in and began the first-jump course. The day was exhausting. Six hours of lecture, watching instructional videos and practicing arch, reach and throw until my neck hurt. And the view of the handsome man in the front row kept breaking my concentration. It was full-out sensory overload. But before I knew it, the skies cleared, the sun shone, and it was time for my first accelerated freefall progression jump.

I remember wondering why I wasn’t nervous. I guess I felt like I had nothing to lose. I had already hit rock bottom, and things couldn’t get any worse. All of that changed as I felt my hands cut through the rushing air when I began to climb out of the aircraft door. A split second of panic set in, and then time seemed to slow to a standstill. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about my miserable middle-aged life and what I was going to do with it. I was in awe, mesmerized and excited at the same time. After I landed and was debriefed, I gave many thanks to the staff and my fellow classmates and went on my way.

I spent that night giving a lot of thought to what I was going to do with my life. I realized that my friends and family were right: Things were looking up. Another door had opened. I was feeling happier than I had in years and was ready for a do-over. Two weeks later, I again made the eight-hour drive to Chester in hopes of making a second jump. I knew that it was meant to be when I saw a familiar face come into view. As I walked the gravel path toward the hangar, I recognized the handsome man from AFP class. We re-introduced ourselves and talked for hours. We both passed our next levels and discussed the possibility of meeting for another jump “date.” That was more than two years, two licenses and 120 jumps ago. Gene and I have been jumping partners since then. And on July 13, 2013, we became husband and wife in the exact room where we first met.

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Clare Schaffner
Tue, 04/05/2016 - 20:07

I can't imagine how life-changing that must have been!

Wendy Helton
Tue, 10/03/2017 - 19:32

You have no idea. Making life altering mistakes year after year and seeing the devastating toll those choices took on myself and everyone around me, was just a nearly impossible pattern to break. I knew that I was living a toxic life and I hated it. I had to cut everything and everyone loose. I’m sad for the past but am so happy that I have a future. Over 500 jumps, my health, 3 step children and a fabulous husband. Love you!’

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