How Skydiving Changed My Life - John Cheesmond

 “It’ll change your life!” How often do we hear skydivers say this while trying to describe the indescribable experience to potential flyers? I often find myself looking out the door of the airplane, nodding at the beauty of the sky in a private moment that you all unknowingly share with me, then get back to focusing on the skydive and the incredible moments that the next few minutes hold.

My life changed the year before my first skydive, when my girlfriend Kristen chose a “long-term solution to a short-term problem.” It was nearing the one-year anniversary of her death—after I’d moved to another country (the U.S.) and changed jobs—and I knew I’d need a distraction for the upcoming weekend. There it was, an advertisement for a tandem skydive at Skydive Spaceland—Houston in Rosharon, Texas. Friends over the years had given it a go and raved with the usual “You have to try it!”

So there it was, a distraction and an opportunity to try something new. I had no real plan or understanding of what I’d signed up for, but the week leading up to the skydive gave me a unique blend of nerves and excitement.

Then I was in the hangar with other nervous first-timers, listening to “Have you done this before?” conversations. The two planes were parked in the hangar. In hindsight, planes in the hangar can mean only one thing, but at the time we asked, “What do you think the chances of flying are?” and watched the cloud-covered sky and occasional rainfall. I resolved to wait the day out, needing the distraction, and I really didn’t know any better.

I ended up returning with my rain check the following weekend, ready to go! Rory made sure I was sufficiently energized, and the camera flyer came over to tell me, “The game face is Rory’s go sign.” That first skydive was (as every skydiver knows) unforgettable, and I thought, “You get paid to do this?” We landed, and I quickly signed up for the next jump, although I decided to give it a week. Being an all-or-nothing personality, I’ve learned to be aware of my adrenaline-fueled responses, and I wanted to be sure I had a genuine interest. It turned out that my interest was real, and that next week I made my second (and equally memorable) jump with Kris. I signed up for the student program.

That first AFF jump … what a memory! When I left that plane, something seemed to grab me and convince me that tumbling was a good body position. (Sorry, Matthew!) Surprisingly, I pulled it together after a few seconds, and I passed that level and my subsequent skydives. I realized a while later that I was connecting the falling sensation with Kristen’s last moments, and my brain gained some insight into what that moment must have been like.

A few years later, I still look out the door on the way up and smile, knowing I’m enjoying a passion with friends and family that an unfortunate event brought me to. I see Kristen in the Texas sky before I fly. I smile, nod and take a moment to accept that her passing is what brought me here and gave me a choice. I choose to pay tribute through skydiving to someone I cared about deeply. I’m both an ambassador for and a student of the passion that can unlock so many positive outcomes.

I’m proud to call Spaceland Houston my home; it’s where I’ve had the opportunity to be surrounded by natural leaders and friends who are also passionate about their sport. I love hanging out at the DZ and watching the next set of students gush about their skydives. I love the experiences and insights of jumpers from the old school, new school and everything in between.

Every once in a while, I enjoy a solo so I can nod to Kristen and rock out through body flight, celebrating the experiences this sport affords me. I smile into the clouds, knowing that somewhere out there, she has peace. While the rest of us didn’t have a vote in her decision, we’ve found ways of celebrating life in unexpected settings.

So, skydiving changed my life! Everyone in the family has been incredibly gracious and supportive at a level I have never experienced before. As a new skydiver working to find his way in this multi-disciplined sport, I can’t think of a better place to say, “Thank you!”

John Cheesmond | B-41509 | Houston, Texas

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