How Skydiving Changed My Life - Linda Kretzler
I grew up a skinny little girl who was afraid of everything. My father, who had been an aerial photographer in World War II, encouraged me to try whatever I set my mind to. On the other hand, my mother kept telling me I was too small and a girl and couldn’t do anything.
In spite of this paradox in upbringing, I must have been born with the taste of pixie dust in my mouth, because all I wanted to do was fly. I watched the TV show “Ripcord” as a child and thought I could do it, like the little engine that could. After all, my heroes Mighty Mouse, Peter Pan and Superman could fly.
When I flew from New York to my cousin’s house in L.A. in ’57, all I could do was look out of the window of the bright, shiny TWA Constellation airplane and say, “I want to be out there! Flying in the puffy clouds!” It happened again when I took a jet to Ohio to see my college. But, alas, I knew nothing of skydiving and thought it would never happen.
My father, who had traveled all over the world for years, became ill with Parkinson’s Disease. Watching a person I loved and who had such a brilliant mind deteriorate slowly until even speech was hard was devastating for me and my family. During that time, I decided I’d better face my fears and live my life, because it seemed so short.
I was going to college in Ohio on a scholarship, grants and loans. Right after my dad died, I was working in a pizza shop when a delivery boy’s dad died, too. We were talking about things we wanted to do before we died, and I said I wanted to parachute.
A boy stepped up and said, “Do you have a motorcycle helmet?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Meet me on the corner Saturday morning at 8 a.m., and I’ll take you parachuting.”
I had hit bottom and figured I had nothing to lose, so I said, “Sure.” And we went! When I saw the pictures on the wall and saw you could actually fly with other people, it was all over. I was going to be a skydiver. I was sick of always being afraid of everything.
In the first year, I made 300 jumps, and something was happening to me. My depression was gone, I had wonderful friends from the drop zone, and my self-confidence was building! I had taken control of my life, and I had actually saved my own life. The experience was a game changer. My teaching career took off, and I tried new things in the classroom. (I was teaching underprivileged kids in southeastern Ohio at the time.)
Then one day, disaster struck our little drop zone. The plane crashed, and we lost dear friends. We couldn’t manage to keep the drop zone open, so we moved en masse to the DZ in the big city of Xenia, Ohio. I had spoken to the pilot, Steve Barhorst, just days before about becoming a pilot, and he said, “Why not?” So when I got to Dayton, I worked on and got my private pilot’s license. I was frightened, but skydiving had taught me to persevere and face my fears.
I started traveling to California and Florida. In Florida, I found I was floating too much. I cut down my jumpsuit and built a funny square weight pad that I strapped on with webbing. I loaned it to Connie Simpson in ’81 for Tom Piras’ team. Then I had
Cliff Schmucker, the president of SSK Industries (which made the Sweethog container), build a rig that was narrow, so it wouldn’t hang over the sides of us little girls and cause drag. I was helping little girls everywhere, as well as myself. It changed the sport for me.
I built up the courage to finish my master’s degree, write my thesis and get an M.A. in art education. Again, the confidence I gained from jumping helped me land a dream job in art at the Miami Valley School. I added art history to the curriculum and traveled all over the world with my students. My first course in our immersion program introduced the kids to different air sports. They took the first-jump course unofficially, and three of them eventually became skydivers. The last course I offered at MVS was “Rocks, Walls and Relative Wind.” We caved and climbed, and jumper Niklas Hemlin came out with creepers and taught 17 kids to move through air. Then off we went to the Paraclete XP wind tunnel for the weekend. I saw nothing but smiles and confidence building!
I won third place in the Nationals along the way and did most of the milestone big-ways. Now at 66 I have 14 formation skydiving world records including highlights like the 300-way in Eloy [Skydive Arizona]. I’ve retired from my job and have the school’s logo on my canopy. I’ve been able to jump the entire season, and retirement is not the lost and lonely thing I thought it would be.
One recent highlight was making myself jump over water and land on the beach at the wonderful boogie in Costa Rica put together by Rich Grimm. We even did a Skydivers Over Sixty jump! I was also recently at an SOS record event where we almost made a beautiful 61-way. The old and new friends I saw and made drove the point home that skydiving friends make life worth living!
How has skydiving changed my life? I learned to build confidence in my students and myself and learned teamwork. I have the best and lifelong friends from skydiving! Can’t beat that! Skydiving has definitely changed my life and made me who I am.
Linda Kretzler | D-6001 | Xenia, Ohio