How Skydiving Changed My Life - Rachel Ginsburg

by Rachel Ginsburg | B-43069 | San Diego, California

I woke up to the voice of my ground instructor repeatedly calling my name through the crackling radio at my ear, urgently yelling at me to untwist my lines. After a moment of disoriented confusion, I instinctively recalled what I had learned during my long day of static-line training. I checked altitude and kicked out three to four rotations of line twist. Once under a stable canopy, I realized I had absolutely no memory following the moment my hands slipped from the strut of the Cessna 182, a yellow smiley-face sticker taunting me from the underside of the wing I didn’t want to let go of. I had completely blacked out from fear. But within a minute, I was safe, the radio was quiet, and I took a moment to look around me. Seeing a patchwork quilt of farmland stretching for miles, vibrant under the clear blue sky I was briefly a part of, I felt the greatest sense of freedom in my life. I began laughing and kicking my legs like a kid on a swing as terror transformed into pure joy.

After landing on the warm August grass of the Missouri drop zone, my instructor told me I had flailed and kicked wildly upon exit. Awash with both embarrassment and exhilaration, I drove home with my first logbook and told my mother what I’d just done. I had decided that jumping out of a plane alone shortly before moving to New York City for college seemed like a good way to demarcate the line between childhood and becoming an independent adult. It did that and so much more.

Fifteen years passed, and my days filled with school, work, marriage, children and a cross-country move. I had always wanted to jump again, but it never seemed like the right time. Then everything changed. While visiting friends in another country, I had another, much longer blackout from fear. This time, it was from being sexual assaulted. Two months of denial, paranoia, flashbacks and debilitating anxiety led to two months of intensive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Several weeks into therapy, I finally listened to the call of the sky and decided to begin the AFF course at Skydive San Diego in Jamul, California. I wanted—needed—to once again feel the freedom that lies on the other side of fear.

While preparing for the floating exit in the AFF progression, I had flashbacks of hanging from that Cessna strut 15 years prior. I was terrified but stubbornly determined not to let fear beat me this time. With the gentle, patient support of my fantastic instructors, I spent an hour doing yoga and meditating while lying on a packing mat, absorbing the warm Southern California breeze kissing my face. I gathered myself, geared up and got on the plane. My heart was racing, and my jump was sloppy, but I did it, and I did not black out. I finally overcame the residual shame of “failing” my very first jump, and I felt truly powerful for the first time in the four months since the assault. Through the process of learning to skydive, I gained mindfulness, tenacity, acceptance and immeasurable courage. With each jump, I grew more confident that if I could save my own life in the sky, I could also save myself on land. Even on weather days, PTSD would never keep me grounded again.

Exactly seven weeks after beginning AFF, I made my 50th jump and earned my B license and with it the sense of living rather than merely surviving. The following weekend, on a Thanksgiving trip to Connecticut, I gave thanks to this sport and celebrated my triumph with a symbolic solo jump: seven consecutive front loops and a perfect landing dead center on the smiley face mown into the grass at Connecticut Parachutists Inc. in Ellington. Through this journey that started 15 years ago but simultaneously has just begun, I’ve learned that I am powerful enough to pilot myself through whatever life throws at me and have a whole lot of fun along the way. Skydiving is my therapy now. It gives me the courage to face the world even if I have to take it one minute (of freefall!) at a time.


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